Apple today announced that it will launch the iPhone 4S in Hong Kong, South Korea and 13 other countries on Nov. 11, with pre-orders starting this Friday.
The debut in those markets will bump up to 29 the number of countries where the iPhone 4S is available. Apple has pledged to sell the new smartphone in 70 countries by the end of the year.
Hong Kong will be the first to get the iPhone 4S in what Apple calls "Greater China," a region composed of the former British colony, Taiwan and the People's Republic.
That's an important step, said Brian White, a senior analyst with Ticonderoga Securities. "As the mecca of shopping and style in Greater China, we believe this Hong Kong launch will fire up another round of Apple Fever in the region, paving the way for a Mainland China ramp by the end of the year," said White in a note to clients today.
Greater China is an increasingly important contributor to Apple's bottom line: In the quarter that ended Sept. 30, the region accounted for 16% of all Apple revenues, up from 13% the quarter before and a nearly four-fold increase from the same period in 2010.
"[China] is growing at a feverish pitch," said Tim Cook, Apple's CEO, during last month's earnings call with Wall Street analysts.
White expects that Apple will launch the iPhone 4S in China itself next month with its only sanctioned mobile provider partner, China Unicom, the world's third-largest mobile network.
He's still convinced that Apple will add other Chinese providers, including the largest, China Mobile, but has backed off predictions that those deals will be struck this year. "We expect Apple's iPhone ramp to finally extend beyond China Unicom to China Telecom and eventually China Mobile," said White, tossing in China Telecom -- the country's third-largest mobile carrier -- into the mix.
One iPhone 4S sticking point in the Greater China market is that its most touted feature, Siri, is not yet able to understand commands spoken in either Mandarin or Cantonese. Apple has promised to add Chinese, Italian, Japanese, Korean and Spanish to the three languages Siri current supports -- English, French and German -- next year.
Other than to say "2012," Apple has not set a timetable for enabling the additional languages.
In Hong Kong, the iPhone 4S will be priced at HK$ 4,688 ($603 at current exchange rates) for the 16GB model and HK$ 5,088 ($655) for the 32GB device.
White, who spent time in China and Hong Kong last month, remained bullish on the region's impact on Apple. "We have found the people of Hong Kong to be Apple fanatics and we believe this will create a positive buzz that ripples throughout the region with long lines and stock-outs," he said.
Other than Hong Kong and South Korea, Apple will also launch the iPhone 4S in Albania, Armenia, Bulgaria, El Salvador, Greece, Guatemala, Malta, Montenegro, New Zealand, Panama, Poland, Portugal and Romania.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is email@example.com.