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BEIJING (AFP) – Chinese web users dismissed the "low-cost" iPhone 5C as too expensive Wednesday, raising questions over Apple's ability to build up sales in the world's biggest mobile market.
The iPhone 5C is part of the US firm's bid to counter cheaper handsets from rivals, particularly in China, where it has only a five percent share of the smartphone market.
But the new phone will retail in China for 4,488 yuan ($733) for the 16GB version, according to Apple's China online store, making it only marginally cheaper than the previous model, the iPhone 5.
It is also well above the $549 that an unlocked iPhone 5C will sell for in the United States.
The top-line iPhone 5S starts at 5,288 yuan ($864) in China, whereas the unlocked US equivalent is $649.
"I thought the cheap 5C version would be priced at one thousand or two (yuan)... I can't sell my kidney for this much," said one poster on Sina Weibo, China's hugely popular Twitter equivalent, referring to a teenager who sold a kidney to buy an iPhone and iPad last year.
"So this is the so-called cheap version? The 5C starts at 4,488 yuan in China. Haha, they treat the Chinese as peasants," said another.
With a network contract in the US, the iPhone 5C can cost as little as $99.
But unlike in North America or Europe, Chinese networks do not offer contract customers deep discounts on handsets, instead requiring a substantial upfront payment which is then refunded over the course of the agreement.
The new iPhone was launched globally at Apple's Silicon Valley headquarters in California on Tuesday.
Apple also held a media event in Beijing on Wednesday after speculation that a deal with China Mobile, the country's biggest carrier, was to be revealed.
However, there were no major announcements at the event, where a translated film of Apple's unveiling in Cupertino was shown.
China Mobile has more than 700 million subscribers, according to Barclays Equity Research. Apple's iPhones are currently available in China on long-term contracts with smaller wireless companies.
Many domestically made smartphones are priced as low as $100 in China, which remains one of Apple's largest markets due to the popularity of its various products.
But Apple's total sales in China in the most recent quarter slipped 14 percent from a year ago to $4.6 billion.
While iPhones are popular among China's better off, analysts believe current prices would need to drop substantially for Apple to seriously penetrate the middle-income market.