The iPhone 5C was widely seen as Apple's effort to target downmarket consumers, particularly those living in emerging markets like China. But at $549 before carrier subsidies, the 5C could still be prohibitively expensive for all but the wealthiest Chinese.

Industry analysts were predicting that Apple would charge $450 or even $400 for the new device. Apple's final figure wound up being 38 percent higher.

Even in the wealthiest parts of China, the average monthly income barely breaks US$750, according to a 2011 report by China Daily:

Mobile phones sold internationally are rarely subsidized by carriers as they are in the United States. So instead of signing onto a contract in exchange for a cheaper device up front, consumers in China often wind up paying the full cost of the phone. One notable exception is China Telecom, which began selling the iPhone 4S last year at the discounted rate of US$62 on a two-year contract.

We don't know yet whether China Mobile's recent deal with Apple includes a device subsidy or how much it might be. But if it comes out resembling China Telecom's numbers, it would still eat up nearly 10 percent of the average Beijinger's income in a month — and more for those living in less wealthy markets.