Apple closer to green light for iPhone 6 sales in China

Meanwhile, gray market prices skyrocket to over $3,200

Apple store in China

The iPhone 6 has received two of the three licenses needed in China before it can be sold there, according to an official government news report Thursday.

The state-run Xinhua News Agency said that Apple had passed the 3C (China Compulsory Certification) process for four different iPhone 6 models, including the larger iPhone 6 Plus, which boasts a 5.5-in. display. The American company also won approval from China's State Radio Regulation.

Xinhua cited a statement from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), the agency that coordinates smartphone approvals in the People's Republic of China (PRC).

Still necessary, said Xinhua, was a "key network access license" before Apple could begin selling the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus in the PRC.

Although Apple launched last year's flagship, the iPhone 5S, in China along with more traditional opening-wave markets -- the first time that a new iPhone didn't lag behind, say, the U.S., by months -- this year has been different.

According to other China-based publications, including the Communist Party's mouthpiece, the People's Daily, the iPhone 6 was originally to launch Sept. 26, a week after the U.S. debut. Apple China even touted that date for a short stretch. Currently, the company's site redirects all buying information about the iPhone 6 to a page that instead pushes last year's iPhone 5S and 5C. The iPhone 6 page states only that on-sales information will be provided soon.

Theories -- conspiratorial and otherwise -- have proliferated since it became apparent the iPhone 6 would not launch immediately in the PRC. Last week, reports by Xinhua an others speculated that the delay was a conscious decision by Apple to retaliate against its mobile carrier partners, some of whom had leaked minor details about the new smartphones before their Sept. 9 unveiling in the U.S.

That seemed unlikely.

No matter why the iPhone 6 cannot be sold in China, the lack of the necessary licenses and the opacity of the PRC's government has made some worry about Apple's fastest-growing market.

"This situation will rectify itself (although the gray market will be insane in the meantime), but we will almost certainly never know what happened, and that's exactly how the Chinese government likes it," wrote independent analyst Ben Thompson Monday in his Daily Update (subscription required).

As Thompson pointed out, the gray market for the iPhone 6 has exploded in China.

A Wednesday piece by Xinhua -- a rewrite of a news story by another publication -- cited an interview with a mobile phone dealer, who said that prices for an iPhone 6 in China were in the 13,000 to 14,000 yuan range ($2,117 to $2,280 at today's exchange rate), while the iPhone 6 Plus ran as much as 20,000 yuan ($3,257).

In Hong Kong, the former British colony, the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus will go on sale Friday. The city will certainly be the source of many of the new smartphones brought into the PRC. Apple Hong Kong's online store noted that it has slapped a two-phone iPhone 6 and two-phone iPhone 6 Plus (total of four) limit for each customer.

Hong Kong prices for the iPhone 6 start at 5,588 HKD ($721), while the iPhone 6 Plus begins at 6,388 HKD ($824).

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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