Writing a text message in Chinese requires typing a few letters, then either allowing the phone to enter what it thinks is the intended character or selecting the character from a string of choices. It’s a quick and simple process on the smartest phones, but it’s laborious on an iPhone, where the software isn’t as good and the characters are small and easy to miss.
In fact, the Chinese slang term for the iPhone is jieji, or “street phone,” which might be better translated as “dress phone.” It’s something you show off, like an expensive watch, when you want to impress. In China, the iPhone is a fashion accessory.
But as a latecomer to China, Apple seems remarkably indifferent to its users there. Given the current and potential size of this market, having only four official stores in the entire country seems almost irresponsible. Despite his incredible success as Apple’s two-time CEO, one of Steve Jobs’s biggest mistakes was never going to China. The company’s strategy of centralizing product design and development in the U.S. stands in stark contrast to that of successful China veterans like GE, GM, SABMiller, and KFC, whose investments in highly localized operations help them develop products that truly satisfy local needs.
It would be interesting to see whether Apple’s successes in China can last. My guess is that it would but not for too long. Another story to show Jobs is not god.