The Opening for Apple in China

If you read any other China Blogs, you’re probably already aware of the Green Dam and Youth Escrot software the Chinese government is now requiring be provided with all new PC purchases in the country. Everyone reads ChinaSMACK, so you know that Chinese people are generally less than thrilled. You might also be aware that the software is set to block some rather odd terms in addition to those you might expect. And of course, you will have guessed on your own even if you didn’t read it in the New York Times: the software itself is crap. From Imagethief:

Green Dam + Youth Escort is a poorly designed rip-off of a foreign nanny-ware product, is unstable, and is riddled with security holes. It is, in short, crapware.

The Times reports the program is “so technically flawed that outsiders can easily infiltrate a user’s machine to monitor Internet activity, steal personal data or plant destructive viruses.”

The sexy manga renderings of Chinese netizens aside (and by “aside”, I mean I’ll be placing Green Dam Girl pictures throughout the rest of this post, thanks Danwei) I can’t help but wonder if this isn’t going to lead a fair number of Chinese computer consumers to consider something the probably hadn’t before: buying a Mac.

Now, before I even begin this, I need to note a couple things for the record. One, I am not in any way an expert on the computer industry, or economics, or anything like that, so this post is pretty much pure speculation. Two, I am myself a Mac user, and one of my best friends works for Apple, so I’m not exactly impartial, which is why this is going to be tagged as an opinion piece.

Anyway, there are a couple reasons why Green Dam might, eventually lead people who hadn’t thought about Apple before to dust off their wallets. First, and most immediately, there are going to be some people who just don’t want this software on their computer. Chinese techies are going to be aware that it’s crap, and will want to avoid it (although they’re also going to be aware of other, cheaper alternatives like Linux), and Chinese dissidents and porn-lovers are going to be interested in any computer that allows them access to a less-censored internet. Since no one really uses Macs in China, I suspect they won’t be required to come pre-installed with Green Dam even if versions of the software are available for Mac, which I highly doubt.

In the longer term, there’s also the potential that people who are tired of their computer being riddled with viruses because of Green Dam’s porous security code might turn to Apple for asylum. I know the feeling, having done so myself after years of PC use finally drove me to Apple’s website five years ago.

Of course, there are also several reasons this won’t happen. First, and most chief among them is the price barrier. Apples are expensive even in the States; in China they seem exorbitant. It’s unlikely Apple will lower their prices for China, so if Apples are going to sell they will need a shrewd marketing campaign. Their American marketing has proved that they’re up to this challenge, but whether or not they will actually bother in China is another story entirely. Plenty of Chinese people buy cars, so it’s certainly possible they could afford to buy Macs if they saw them as a long-term investment (and also, like cars, a status symbol?). But for that to happen, Apple needs to get serious about the Chinese market now and start letting people know what they do and why, exactly, you should pay so much more for a Mac than you’re paying now for PCs.

There are some other obvious issues going against Apple. For one, were Macs to become more popular in China, the Green Dam software would inevitably sooner or later be foisted onto Apples as well, making it less appealing to switch. Furthermore, plenty of programs Chinese people expect to be able to use don’t currently work with Apple. Pirated software is much less readily available for the Mac platform, while pirated PC software is cheap and extremely widespread.

It’s also very possible that Apple simply just doesn’t care about the Chinese market. Foolish as that might seem, their half-assed, way-too-late introduction of the iPhone seems to indicate they may be willing to forgo whatever potential profits they might see, perhaps because they fear losing out to various forms of piracy. They may well be on to something. Microsoft has been unable, despite repeated efforts, to get the Chinese market to adopt Windows legally instead of using the many cracked versions available for 6 RMB (less than $1) in local DVD shops. Their gaming console, the XBox 360, isn’t even available legally in China, and their new search engine Bing hasn’t really caught on, either (has it anywhere?). Perhaps Apple is wise to just avoid China altogether. After all, it’s not like they’re doing badly right now anyway.

But like I said, I know nothing about this stuff, this is all just pure speculation mixed with the feeling that you might know about something that comes from reading lots of news. So I’ll leave it to Green Dam Girl, with Grass Mud Horse in tow, to pose the final and most important question:

What do you think? Is there really an opening for Apple in China’s market? Would Chinese people ever adopt the more-expensive Apple hardware?

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0 thoughts on “The Opening for Apple in China”

  1. Has iPhone been already introduced in China? I thought Apple didn’t and the phones sold there are only leaks…

    Btw, I have heard Green Dam can be uninstalled from a Windows machine, so that sounds like much more likely option and I guess people will consider that first, rather than switching.

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  2. With the government pushing Green Dam, I’d find it odd if they didn’t offer a Mac version (ditto a Unix version).

    That said, I’m also a Mac user but run XP virtually using Parallels for work email integration. Other than that, & some minor, work-related web-surfing – using FireFox, to be ‘safer’ – I seldom use XP. When I do, I’m always astonished as to how many viruii my (PC-side) anti-virus software catches.

    I’ve used Macs for 15+ years, and in that time have only had ONE (1) virus on my Mac. It was harmless, immediately detected & deleted. I now have daily virus warnings on my (Mac-) PC and should reinstall XP to remove the most tenacious viruii.

    With the upcoming Mac OS (Snow Leopard) allowing direct Chinese character-writing input on trackpads, this is a great time for Apple to step up their entry into the China market. I hope they will recognize this and make a significant effort to increase market share here.

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  3. *Furthermore, plenty of programs Chinese people expect to be able to use don’t currently work with Apple.*

    This includes those ActiveX controls that allow you to buy stuff on Taobao using Alipay, carry out online banking, and do lots of other things on the web, all of which is handled (relatively) seamlessly by the browser, so users may not even be aware that they’d be giving it up by going Apple.

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  4. @ Jan: Yes, I meant to mention that in the post, but it seems it will be possible to uninstall Green Dam, although it’s unclear how easy that’s going to be (at least to me). So it may not be the sort of thing the average computer user is capable of, even if it’s possible. Or it just might be like uninstalling any other program, I have no idea.

    Re: the iPhone, they’ve got some kind of deal with China Telecom because I saw the China Telecom logo during their “we are awesome worldwide” portion of the WWDC keynote. However, I have no idea if that’s something that’s already set up or not…

    @ Buzz: I may be wrong, but as I understand it most of the Macs sold in China are imported from the US (even though the computers are manufactured in China!), and I doubt Apple would be willing to put any software like this on their computers anyway. Part of the reason their computers are more stable than PCs is that they have total control over hardware and more control over software. In any event, I don’t see developing a Mac version being a huge priority for the government right now, so there might be a window anyway.

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  5. I have a feeling, this Green Dam is not going anywhere. It is a total failure by every measure.

    Chinese government has lots of policies that they cannot implement, this is likely to be just one of them

    After buzz’s gone, it’s just everything as usual.

    Even if the government did successfully push this Dam into PCs, I guess it is more likely to encourage amateur assembling business in China. Chinese may still find Mac expensive, but grap pieces from retail shops and put them together has long been the business of guys in these Computer Cities. Their non-brand computer actully outperform these big names in many ways.

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