Seeking Fortunes in China's Hands

Less than a month after Apple Inc.'s official launch of its iPhone in China, Internet companies big and small are racing to offer the nation's hot new app.

Winners so far include practical applications for getting around town and translating Chinese into English; games that let users mine gold for profit or fight the Soviets in an alternate-history Europe; and even software for finding soul mates.

[China Apps]

But China presents unique challenges. IPhones there currently lack WiFi wireless Internet capabilities. Language and cultural issues plague distribution. While China already has an estimated two million iPhones in circulation, the vast majority are "jailbroken" -- meaning they operate off the iPhone's official China Unicom Ltd. 3G network -- and are more likely to download pirated apps.

"We know perfectly well that Chinese market is huge and has great potential. But when we release apps targeting users here, we're usually not able to get reasonable returns because of piracy," said Shi Weixing, founder and chief executive of Chinese mobile application company 9thQ.