Apple to launch Wi-Fi iPad in China Friday

In a quick turnaround compared to its iPhone launches, Apple will officially introduce Wi-Fi models of the iPad in China on Sept. 17. The popular tablets will be available through its two Apple Stores in the country and through authorized resellers beginning Friday at 10am local time. The Apple retail stores will set-up the iPad’s e-mail and applications, along with holding special iPad workshops.

Unlike the US launch prices, where the the 16GB iPad cost $499, 32GB was $599, and the 64GB for $699, the Chinese models are priced 20 percent higher. The 64 GB iPad is listed as 5,588 renminbi, or about $826. The cheapest tablet, the 16GB model, is 3,988 renminbi, or $590. It’s not quite as affordable to the masses, but demand is expected to be high.

This is bad news for the vendors who deal on the active gray market, where prices have gone as much as $1000 for knock-offs and privately imported models from Hong Kong, and other places where the iPad is officially available. China’s gray market has been thriving for years meeting the local population’s voracious demand for Apple products, especially since Apple has notoriously been slow in launching products in there. The iPhone 3G and 3GS officially launched in China a year ago, two years after the US debut. There are still no plans to launch the iPhone 4 in China, but is readily available on the gray market.

The App Store hasn’t really taken off amongst China’s iPhone users, mainly because the site isn’t available in Chinese and users are required to use dual-currency credit cards to make purchases. Many users opted to hack their iPhones to use pirated applications and applications from independent application stores instead. The iPad might change all that, with its wealth of publications and apps available.

Apple has been rolling out the iPad internationally, and its latest moves in China reflect the company’s commitment to this oft-neglected market of over billion consumers. Apple launched its first China Apple Store in Shanghai earlier this summer, and plans to have 25 new stores by the end of 2011.

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