Will China See a GPS-Enabled iPhone?

Posted: Dec 11, 2008 10:29 a.m.

Egyptian citizens might have been hoping for their first taste of GPS with Apple's iPhone 3G. Those hopes have now been dashed. 

The New York Times reports that the Egyptian government upholds that GPS is a "military prerogative," and has requested Apple disable the functionality before the 3G can sell there.

According to the article, Egypt, which is a semi-presidential republic, "illustrates the push-me-pull-you nature of technology under an oppressive government." Since 2003, GPS navigation has been banned in the country, as it also has in North Korea and Syria.

Although Apple has been mum, reports confirm that the iPhone 3G will be modified to comply with the government's security laws. All this has generated speculation as to how the iPhone could potentially be introduced into other stringent governments, especially China, where the mobile services market has more than 600 million subscribers.

"There is absolutely no doubt that Apple wants to sell the device to the billion and a half people there," writes VentureBeat. "But there is also no doubt that the Chinese government, which is notoriously strict on censorship, will have some of the same issues the Egyptian government had, and probably more."

"Hitting the Egyptian market is undoubtedly one big step ahead for Apple, especially since the company is very much interested in getting the iPhone to as many consumers as possible and reaching record sales figures," an eFluxMedia blogger notes. "On the other hand, if Apple was willing to make compromise for Egypt, what are they willing to make for China, which is somewhat the dream-market for gadgets?"

Right now, talk of an iPhone in China is just that -- talk. While Marketwatch reports that China Mobile has continually been meeting with Apple, Inc to form an agreement, BusinessWeek thinks the Google Android software, also featuring GPS functionality, will enter the country first. "Google is making concrete gains," they write. "The company has just gained an important new Chinese partner, Huawei Technologies, the biggest Chinese telecom equipment manufacturer, which late this afternoon announced it will be coming out with smart phones using the Android operating system backed by the search giant."

As the iPhone continues to spread across the globe, check out U.S. News' GPS reviews for more information on other portable navigation devices.