SHANGHAI China Unicom said it will launch Apple's latest iPhone in China on Saturday, as it attempts to claw back market share with a rollout of the U.S. company's popular smartphones.
The iPhone 4 will be sold through China Unicom on two-year phone contracts and also through Apple retail stores in China, the world's largest mobile phone market with more than 790 million subscribers.
China Unicom will sell the latest iPhone 16 gigabytes version at 3,899 yuan ($579.9) with a monthly fee of 96 yuan for 2 years. Alternatively, subscribers can sign up for a 2-year plan of 286 yuan per month and get the phone free.
"Looking at the pricing, it is still relatively expensive. People can still come to Hong Kong to buy it for less," said Marvin Lo, a Hong Kong-based analyst with Daiwa Capital Markets.
Lo expects the new iPhone 4 to stimulate 3G monthly net additions of 1 million subscribers for China Unicom and expand the firm's average-revenue-per-user in the short term.
"It is still expensive stuff, whether it can stimulate net additions over 6-7 months remains to be seen," Lo said.
Apple will also open two new stores in China on Saturday that will sell the new iPhone, Apple said in a statement.
The Cupertino firm currently has two stores in mainland. Apple will open an Apple store in Hong Kong Plaza in Shanghai and one in Beijing's Xidan Joy City.
At the stores, the phones will be sold without contracts at 4,999 yuan ($743.6) for a 16 gigabytes version and 5,999 yuan for a 32 gigabyte version.
In Hong Kong, a 16 gigabytes iPhone 4 is cheaper than its Chinese counterpart at HK$4,988 ($642.4) at the Apple store.
China Unicom, the sole telecom distributor of Apple's iPhone in the country, had seen slow sales for the handset because of high subscription fees and stiff competition from lower priced Android handsets.
Apple opened its second flagship store in China in July and is on track to have 25 retail outlets in the country by the end of next year. Apple executives said in April that they saw the Chinese market as a major growth opportunity.
(Reporting by Melanie Lee; Editing by Ken Wills)