Mobility on the move in China

China is forging ahead with mobility, both on the consumer and enterprise fronts.

On the consumer front, China is already the largest smartphone market in the world. And the market is only going to get bigger.

To tap into that market, Apple will begin selling its flagship iPhone to China Mobile customers starting Friday after striking a deal last month with China's largest mobile carrier after six years of talks.

Starved for good news, Apple CEO Tim Cook traveled to China this week to crow about the opportunity. "It's a monumental day and a watershed moment," Cook is quoted by The Wall Street Journal as saying.

In anticipation of the deal, pre-orders for the iPhone by China Mobile subscribers have exceeded one million. Purchases of iPhones are expected to soar, with analysts predicting Apple this year could be shipping between 15 million and 30 million iPhones to China Mobile's subscribers, who number 700 million.

"China is an extremely important market for Apple and our partnership with China Mobile presents us the opportunity to bring iPhone to the customers of the world's largest network," Cook says in last month's announcement.

"iPhone customers in China are an enthusiastic and rapidly growing group, and we can't think of a better way to welcome in the Chinese New Year than getting an iPhone into the hands of every China Mobile customer who wants one," he adds.

On the enterprise front, Chinese firms are expected to begin embracing mobility in earnest over the next few years. Market research firm IDC forecasts that the Chinese enterprise mobility market will reach $4.7 billion by 2017.

IDC notes that use of mobile applications for marketing and customer service is on the rise in China. The financial services, insurance, telecom and transportation and logistics are industries that are taking the lead with business-to-consumer mobile apps.

In addition, Chinese firms are developing mobile apps for front-line and field service staff, particular in the consumer goods, transportation and power and energy industries. "Mobile terminal equipment is adopted to collect field information, including market dynamics, equipment assets, urban condition and customer information, and field information can be rapidly uploaded to the back end systems at the headquarters," explains IDC.

The most popular mobile apps for Chinese firms are designed to improve the efficiency of office workers.

"As industry mobile solutions mature and increase understanding of mobile applications from customers, IDC expects more mobile applications to be built in the coming years," explains Andy Wang, research manager for enterprise system and software research at IDC China.

With close to 1.4 billion people, the Chinese market is a gold mine. The sky is the limit in terms of mobility. China's potential is only limited by the imagination of the firms vying to serve the market. - Fred