Chinese can't wait for official iPhone launch

Buyers in China are asking friends and relatives travelling abroad to bring back electronic devices that are unavailable in the country, an AFP report said.

The irony is the object they desire is made in China and the US company responsible for the scarcity is proud of its free-thinking image, Apple Computers, the AFP report said.

'The iPhone has brought back the planned-economy era,' James Lei, director of the consumer electronics division at market research firm In-Stat China, was quoted by the report as saying.

More than a year after its debut, analysts say plans to introduce the smart phone are conspicuously more advanced in West Africa than in China, the world's largest mobile phone market, with more than 600 million cellphone users.

The AFP report added that Apple chief Steve Jobs said in June he expected to reach a deal in China this year and that the obstacles Apple had to overcome had to do with 'regulatory bodies.'

Chinese media reported that China Mobile, the country's largest handset operator, was in the final stages of talks with Apple to launch the iPhone in China. But neither company would confirm it.

In the meantime, Chinese consumers are not waiting for Jobs. The country is widely considered the world's biggest market for smuggled, 'unlocked' and counterfeited iPhones.

More than 500,000 first-edition iPhones made their way to China, or nearly a tenth of the phone's global shipments of 5.2 million from June 2007 through March 2008, according to estimates from In-Stat.

Some estimates indicate 40% of all 'unlocked' iPhones are in China, according to telecoms consultancy BDA.