Apple's next iPhone won't be until late 2016, but should come with a new design.
iPhone Launches Today in China
Among those hurdles is a lack of Wi-Fi functionality, a restriction that had been imposed by the Chinese government. The restriction was lifted earlier this year, but not until after the Chinese-specific iPhone lacking Wi-Fi had gone into production.
Unicom's iPhones lack WiFi because it was temporarily banned by Beijing, which was promoting a rival Chinese system, according to BDA. The ban was relaxed in May after manufacturing had begun.
A Unicom spokesman, Yi Difei, said the company hopes to have WiFi in the next batch of phones.
"We are talking with Apple and expect the problem to be solved by the end of this year," Yi said.
Apple Inc. and Unicom also could face competition from an unusual source: unlocked iPhones brought in from abroad that have WiFi.
There are already an estimated 1.5 million to 2 million such phones in China using China Mobile 3G service that allows Internet access and other features.
Unicom's prices range from 4,999 yuan ($730) to 6,999 yuan ($1,025) for the high-end, 32-gigabyte iPhone 3GS. That is 20 percent above the 5,700 yuan ($835) charged by merchants at Chinese street markets for a 3GS with WiFi.