Public question government orders for Apple iPhone

09:24, December 27, 2010      

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When two of China's city governments ordered the latest models of Apple's iPhone and iPod Touch they didn't realize how much controversy they would cause.

After media reports that traffic police in Jiangsu Province's Suzhou City and the treasury department in Liaoning Province's Fushun City had ordered several iPhone4s and iPod Touches for official duties, Internet forums were swamped with complaints about the misuse of taxpayers' money on what many believed to be fancy but unnecessary equipment.

A recent post on tianya.com revealed a purchase order made by Suzhou's traffic police on December 20. The order included several wireless network adapters and 21 32G iPhone4s to be used as "video surveillance terminal devices."

The post aroused uproar online with many people questioning the "extravagance" of the police.

Search results on the procurement website of Jiangsu Province showed that in December, another two cities in the province ordered Nokia phones at 1,000 to 3,000 yuan each for similar purposes. The official price for an unlocked iPhone4 is 5,999 yuan (US$902) with customers usually having to wait more than a month due to high demand.

"An iPhone4 nowadays costs 7,000 yuan if you want to get one immediately through the grey market," one comment read.

In a bid to deflect criticism, Suzhou police held a press conference to explain that the equipment was ordered so they could solve accidents more efficiently, and the decision was based on the iPhone's "unique advantages," which included a high resolution display, a long lasting battery and a large storage capacity.

"A new surveillance system we are using requires traffic police to record the accident scene with their terminal devices, and send the video immediately to headquarters," Tao Ren, a traffic police official said. "This will help us find solutions quickly."

Meanwhile, the treasury department of Fushun City released an order on the government's website on December 16 that the department would buy seven 32G iPod Touches as flash drives (data storage devices).

The retail price of a 32G iPod Touch is 2,398 yuan.

Web users said these would be "the most expensive flash drives ever," not just because of the high initial cost, but also because the iPod Touch can't be used as a flash drive without changing the software.

But treasury officials told local media on December 21 that the order had been canceled and the decision was due to a "stupid" mistake by a technician. The department was buying seven 32G flash disks at 1,000 yuan each instead.

"We were looking for flash disks with large storage capacity and high quality to ensure security of official documents, and technical staff suggested the iPod Touch could meet those requirements," said Li Guoqiang, the official in charge of the purchase.
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