It looks like Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL ) latest and greatest iPhone 4S will be making it to China just in time for the New Year. The Chinese New Year, that is, which takes place on Jan. 23 this time around.
This year's model has been making its way around the world in record time, no doubt taking 8-megapixel photos and 1080p HD video to document its journeys. It's been the fastest rollout yet of an iPhone model, which also made its way to Russia, Brazil, and Taiwan, among other places, earlier this month. Those countries follow Colombia and India, which started talking to Siri last month (albeit in English, even though Siri has some trouble with Indian accents).
China represents limitless growth opportunities for Apple, with an exploding middle class that views the iPhone as a status symbol. The region is Apple's fastest-growing major geography. The device recently got the blessing of government regulators at the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, clearing the way for its official launch.
The iPhone 4S launched in Hong Kong in November, with a buying frenzy reminiscent of the stateside launch.
China Unicom (NYSE: CHU ) continues to be the only official carrier within the country, enjoying exclusivity the way AT&T (NYSE: T ) did for a while, but that hasn't stopped adventurous types from running millions of unlocked devices on rival China Mobile's (NYSE: CHL ) network.
China Mobile boasts more than three times as many subscribers as China Unicom does, representing an enormous opportunity once China Mobile inevitably gets the iPhone. China Telecom (NYSE: CHA ) , whose network resembles Verizon's (NYSE: VZ ) CDMA network, would also like an invite, but as the smallest carrier, it remains less important -- just like T-Mobile domestically.
Beyond the horizon, next year's iPhone that will probably have 4G speeds should play nicely with China Mobile, since the company's chairman, Wang Jianzhou, has confirmed a "positive answer from Apple" regarding a TD-LTE iPhone.
The Chinese popularity of the iPhone 4S is even more striking because Siri doesn't support either Mandarin or Cantonese Chinese. Overall, Mandarin is far more prevalent throughout China, and Apple has promised support for the language in 2012. It currently works only with English, French, and German, but Apple may bring Chinese support as soon as March.
China is Apple's land of opportunity. Apple's fiscal 2011 China revenue accounted for 12% of sales, up from 2% in fiscal 2009. The region's revenue last quarter soared 270% year over year, and it's one reason Apple is still a buy.
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