Over the past year, the tone of coverage of many China-related topics in the US has improved. For the most part, writers covering China have tried to look past the generally-accepted stereotypes, and have tried to get a deeper understanding of what is going on in China.
But occasionally something finds its way through the cracks.
This article is really exemplary; it seems like the writer has taken all the stereotypes about Apple and China, and thrown them all together in one basket. Judging from the tone of the article, and what he professes to be truth, it seems like he has never set foot in China. Otherwise, how could be believe some of the things he writes?
Let’s take a look at some of the choice statements:
Apple has less than 8 percent market share in China for media players, and far less than 1 percent of either PC or cell phone market share.
Yes, so? I wonder if the writer has walked into any cafe in Shanghai, Beijing and Shenzhen, and looked around? Or has he taken any of the subways in any of those three cities and looked around for the signature white earbuds? The question should not be the percentage market share. It should be the trend, and whether it is tracking up or down.
Apple’s second biggest hit in China, the iPhone, isn’t authorized. One Chinese analyst estimates that some 1 million Apple iPhones are currently operating on just one Chinese carrier — China Mobile — with a smaller number on other carriers. Most Apple “Authorized Resellers” in China sell black-market iPhones, and many even offer illegal cracking services — a process that reportedly takes less time than activating an iPhone 3G in California.
Apple makes money off of every iPhone sold, whether it is through authorized or unauthorized channels. Sure, Apple would like to have a carrier agreement in China, but having a group of fans, even though it is relatively small percentage-wise, which is very enthusiastic about Apple products, is a good thing. Besides, there are a lot of people in China who pay even more for more expensive feature-packed mobile phones in China. In fact, the iPhone is not the most expensive phone in the market. Ask Nokia.
Apple succeeds because customers love the products and the brand. But in China, brands mean little to most potential customers, and hardware even less. Chinese consumers prize value above all.
This quote is a true gem and qualifies as one of the most ignorant sweeping statements about China for 2008, even though we are only halfway through the year. Obviously the writer has not been to China and walked in the downtown of any major city. Here is an article about the runup to the recent opening of the Sanlitun store in Beijing and another story about Chinese youth camping out in front of the Beijing Apple store, where they were behaving just like American Apple fans.
I guess that’s why there are no Mercedes Benzes, BMWs, and Chinese women don’t care about the labels they wear? Maybe he thinks that they still wear Mao suits?
The rest of the world’s love of the Apple brand has enabled Apple to get favorable terms with carriers around the world. But this hasn’t helped much in China. Apple initially demanded a big two-digit percentage of carriers’ wireless revenue as a condition for granting its coveted exclusivity deal, according to reports (one company says Apple demanded 30%). The Chinese carriers were apparently unimpressed by the value of Apple’s brand compared with the value to Apple of access to Chinese consumers. They appear to have forced Apple to drop its demand for any share of wireless revenues.
The reason Apple has not been able to get an agreement with China Mobile is because they are both big companies with very big egos who want to control everything. I would say that Apple and the carriers have trouble reaching an agreement because they are so much alike, and don’t believe in compromise.
One-party rule in China actually affects product quality. One example is that Apple will probably be required to disable the iPhone’s Wi-Fi feature in order to comply with the Communist Party’s strict Internet control and censorship rules.
The relationship between one-party rule and product quality is an arguable point. But if it is that simple, then why are ALL of Apple’s products made in China? As for the disabling of Wi-Fi on phones sold in China, that is a China Mobile requirement, not a State Council requirement. (If you think that the rulers of China don’t have better things to worry about than whether mobile phones in China have Wi-Fi functionality, you don’t know anything about the country and how it’s ruled.) Besides, with the recent re-arrangement of the Chinese telcos, it’s not as if China Mobile is able to control Wi-Fi as much as it would like.
China is number one in intellectual property theft
Apple’s whole business model is based on creating value through exquisite design, superior branding and the sale of creative intellectual property (IP) — then defending its rights against the IP thieves, pirates and counterfeiters.
How will this formula succeed if China doesn’t enforce intellectual property laws?
The music piracy rate in China is between 90 and 99 percent, depending on whom you ask. China is the global epicenter of intellectual property theft in general, and of Apple IP theft in particular — especially iPhones and iPods.
Fake iPhones, and phones that steal Apple branding; illegal iPhone unlocking services; trade in illegal movie and music files; all appear to be tolerated and even government-protected activities in China.
Oh yes, how can we talk about China without IP violations? Seriously though, this is an issue. The best way to fight IP though, is for a country to get more prosperous. As people become wealthier, they are more willing to spend money on software, music, etc. In China, it is also very important to explain the importance of IP to various government ministries, and even be flexible about how much you charge Chinese consumers. Many Chinese think that they should not have to pay as much for music as US consumers because they have a lower income and standard of living. Does that fit into any American companies’ equations? Up until four years ago, Microsoft had a very high level of illegally installed Windows licenses in China, and constantly lobbied with the US Congress to “punish” China. When Microsoft China changed tactics and chose to engage Chinese ministries, educate them, and lower the license fees (as China’s standard of living increased), first the ministries, then the schools, then the people started buying original software from Microsoft. Now Microsoft gets more revenue from China, and the relationship with the government is much less confrontational. Piracy of Microsoft software still exists, but again it’s about the trend, which is improving.
Steve Jobs is an exemplary business and marketing genius. But when it comes to learning about other markets, he is lazy. He would like nothing better than to set prices for all media products sold through iTunes himself, and he would like it to be the same all over the world. China is a major kink in his vision.
How many times has Bill Gates been to China? How many times has Steve Jobs been to China?
I rest my case.