Apple has started selling the new MacBook Air in China in a move one analyst said would prove a "big hit" in the country that delivered more than an eighth of the company's revenues last quarter.

The MacBook Air, which debuted in the US and other markets, went on sale in China earlier this week.

Currently, Apple's online store for Chinese customers lists all four MacBook Air models - two each in 11-inch and 13in configurations - but with lengthy shipping delays.

The 11in MacBook Air's estimated delivery time, according to the e-store, is nine to 11 working days, while the 13in models will reach customers approximately five working days after ordering.

Those times, however, are improvements over last Friday, when the China online store said there was "no supply" of 11in MacBook Airs and that the larger 13in notebooks would be delivered two weeks after an order was placed.

Shortages of sought-after product

MacBook Air supplies have been tight in the US as well, with spot outages at some Apple stores and more severe shortages at a number of online and brick-and-mortar resellers.

"The new MacBook Air is poised to be a big hit in the Greater China region as more consumers can increasingly afford to own a PC - Apple fever is gaining momentum in the region and there is no laptop product on the market with the characteristics of the new MacBook Air," said Brian White, an analyst with Ticonderoga Securities.

Greater China is the term Apple uses to describe the sales region of the People's Republic, Hong Kong and Taiwan. According to Apple's most recent earnings statement, that area accounted for 13% of the company's revenues for the quarter ending June 30.

Chinese MacBook more expensive

The 11in MacBook Air is priced at 7,698 yuan and 9,198 yuan for the 64GB and 128GB flash drive models, respectively. At current exchange rates, those prices are equivalent to $1,203 and $1,438, significantly higher than the $999 (£613.14) and $1,199 (£735.91) US customers pay.

Apple's 13in MacBook Air costs 9,998 yuan and 12,498 yuan - the latter for the notebook with 256GB in storage space - or $1,563 and $1,954. US list prices are $1,299 (£797.32) and $1,599 (£981.53) for the same models.

White, who was in Asia last week, said that the MacBook Air was launched in Hong Kong last week to "long lines and stock outs of certain models."

Apple does not yet have a retail store of its own in Hong Kong - one is slated to open before the end of September - and relies on authorised resellers to sell its products from brick-and-mortar outlets.

Apple's online store for Hong Kong residents shows better MacBook Air availability than in China; new orders ship within 24 hours, according to that store's website.

Revenue from China could surpass that from US

White said that Apple has an opportunity to reap even more revenue from the region as China surpasses the US in projected personal computer shipments next year.

Last week, research firm IDC said that computer shipments to China outnumbered those to the US in the second quarter of this year - a first - but that the totals for 2011 will still give the edge to the United States. Next year, however, shipments to China will total 85.2 million, while US shipments will top out at 76.6 million, IDC estimated.

"With IDC naming China the largest PC market in the world this week based on second quarter shipment data, we believe investors should increasingly think about the Mac opportunity for Apple in China over the next few years," White advised.