Apple pins its China hopes on the iPhone 4. Yes, the iPhone 4

Apple’s new China strategy: Get ’em young.
Apple’s new China strategy: Get ’em young.
Image: AP/Andy Wong
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Apple CEO Tim Cook just said something at once unsurprising and totally amazing. Asked on the company’s earnings call how Apple is planning to tackle China, he said, “We’ve seen a significant interest in iPhone 4 there and have recently made it even more affordable, to make it more attractive to those first-time buyers.”

Remember, Apple has released two phones since the iPhone 4: the iPhone 4S and iPhone 5. Why would it push a nearly three-year-old phone in what Cook himself has said will be a very important market?

Simple: “China has an unusually large number of potential first-time smartphone buyers, and that’s not lost on us,” said Cook.

Those first-time smartphone buyers don’t have a lot of money. And given how loyal buyers of smartphones, especially Apple’s iPhones, tend to be, it’s extremely important that Apple get them started in the iOS ecosystem, buying apps, getting used to the feel of the phone, etc. Because first-time smartphone buyers, who are only now joining the global middle class, are more likely to be repeat customers.

“We’re hopeful that [iPhone 4 sales] will help iPhone sales in the future,” said Cook.

It appears that Apple has realized that the Facebook Zero effect—get users hooked the first time they encounter a new technology, like the web—is one that they should capitalize on.