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Apple's 'Watershed Day,' Years In the Making (Update 2)

Chris Ciaccia

Updated from 11:08 a.m. EST to include more analysis in the 11th and 12th paragraphs.

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- If there was any concern about Apple's iPhone not selling well on China Mobile's network, think again.

China Mobile is slated to start selling Apple's iPhones on its network starting this Friday, as the two companies officially kick off their partnership. In an interview with CNBC, China Mobile noted it had taken 1.2 million pre-orders for the iPhone, averaging 60,000 a day since Christmas.

A pre-order of 1.2 million iPhones for the initial shipment to China Mobile is a massive number, considering that Apple only ships about 2 million iPhones to China per month. The deal, according to Canaccord Genuity analyst T. Michael Walkley, could "offset some of the anticipated sharp decline in Western carrier iPhone sales post the holiday selling season."

Walkley, who rates Apple shares "buy" with a $600 price target, noted that his holiday surveys indicated "very strong iPhone 5s sales," and improved the supply level for all colors and sizes.

Not only does this give Apple a boost for iPhone sales, the partnership will run further than that, giving China Mobile customers a chance to look at other Apple products on its network, presumably the iPad. Apple's iPad Air, iPad 2, iPad mini with Retina Display, and iPad mini all come in Wi-Fi and cellular connected options, with the iPad Air and both iPad mini tablets offering LTE (Long Term Evolution) connectivity.

A 16GB iPhone 5s will be priced at 5,288 yuan ($874) China Mobile said, with the 64GB model being priced at 6,888 yuan ($1,139). Apple's mid-tier phone, the iPhone 5c, will be priced at 4,488 yuan for the 16GB model.

Apple shares were sharply higher in Wednesday trading, gaining 2% to $557.47, while China Mobile shares were up 0.46% to $50.71.

A deal between Apple and China Mobile has been months, if not years in the making, until it was officially announced last month. China Mobile has approximately 760 million subscribers, making it the biggest cellular provider in the world by a wide margin, and could boost Apple's iPhone units substantially. A 1.2 million pre-order run rate implies that Apple will be able to sell at least 14 million iPhones on China Mobile's network per year, assuming around 1.2 million iPhones sold per month.

Now that the deal is official, signed and pre-orders are taking place, analysts estimates for iPhone sales will start to come up. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters expect Apple to earn $43.72 per share on $184.71 billion in revenue for fiscal 2014, though the sell-side does not have an official iPhone sales estimate figure.

During the CNBC interview, Apple CEO Timothy D. Cook noted it was a "watershed day" for Apple, adding that the company has deep respect for China Mobile, and continuing to heap praise on the world's largest carrier.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Cook said that the first seeds of the deal were sown in 2008, with key meetings taking place in the fall of 2012 and January 2013. The January 2013 meeting was perhaps the most important, as it became public knowledge the two companies were talking. In early January, it was reported Cook and China Mobile Chairman Xi Guohua had met on "matters of cooperation," but there was nothing new to report at that time. Cook was spotted in China again in July, but again there was nothing new to report on an official relationship between Apple and China Mobile.

On Dec. 18, it was reported the deal between the two companies was done, as China Mobile started to put up signage on its Web site about pre-ordering the iPhone 5s, only for the official announcement to come a few days later.

It's interesting to see that the world's most valuable company (Apple) is bowing down to China Mobile by heaping massive amounts of praise on the Chinese giant, and referring to the deal as a "courtship" between the two firms. Almost every other time, companies bow down to Apple, simply because a deal with the Cupertino, Calif.-based firm can make or break a company. Not in this case, though.

Apple's deal with China Mobile has been years in the making, as the world's largest carrier and the world's largest company get together. Now is when the fun starts for all parties involved.

--Written by Chris Ciaccia in New York

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