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In addition, Apple opened an App Store for the Chinese, so customers can download apps for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. The online store is in "simplified Chinese" with localized feature apps and charts of the most popular paid and free apps in China, Apple said.
Apple offers more than 300,000 apps in 20 categories in its App Store in the U.S. Whether the same catalog will be available to the Chinese is unclear. The country's government keeps tight control of online content.
Before the opening of Apple's online store, Chinese had to order an iPhone from Apple online and then pick it up at one of the company's four retail stores in Beijing and Shanghai, according to The Wall Street Journal. With the new online store, Apple will be shipping products to customers.
Apple is relatively new in China. The company's first store opened in Beijing in July 2008, and Apple didn't open its second until two years later. The second was in Shanghai, which was followed soon after by two more.
Apple is also releasing its products faster in the country. The company made the iPad available five months after its launch in the U.S., compared with two years after the launch of the original iPhone. The long delay resulted in a thriving gray market in iPhones purchased from other countries. Apple also had to contend with a large market in fake iPhones.
In opening its online stores, Apple hopes to tap into China's exploding e-commerce market. In addition, China has become the world's largest mobile phone market and the second largest PC market.
However, how well the iPhone will do in China remains to be seen. While Apple targets the highest end of the smartphone market, other smartphone manufacturers are focusing on the mid-range, which is where 60% of the market lies, according to analysts.
Smartphones are growing in popularity, but because of their relatively high prices in China, they have been largely limited to the wealthy and upper middle class. Manufacturers are looking to offer products at less than $150 to expand the market, a price point far less than the iPhone 4, which starts at the equivalent of $874.