Months after the international release of Apple’s iPhone 4S, the product made its debut on mainland Chinese store shelves this morning, Friday the 13th.
In the weeks leading up to its release, it was suggested by some Chinese tech watchers that Apple’s sale of the iPhone 4S in China wouldn’t spark the same kind of fiery demand that the company’s other new or restyled products attracted. The new handset boasted no new design to attract China’s conspicuous consumer set, and utilized 3G technology which still remains largely underdeveloped and underused in the country. Furthermore, Apple’s recent legal difficulties involving copyright disputes in China, the meteoric rise of domestic peer ZTE in terms of capturing global smartphone marketshare, and Mandarin language problems with the popular iPhone app, Siri, may have also eroded some domestic sentiment towards the iconic California-based tech giant.
Yet judging by the long line-ups – and in some cases, rising tempers – witnessed at company’s official stores in Mainland China last night and early this morning, there is still a strong demand in the country for all things Apple.
In Shanghai, according to one local newspaper, Eastern Morning Post, hundreds of people lined up to purchase the new iPhone, many arriving in the late afternoon to secure a spot for the overnight wait. Crowds were largely orderly at the city’s Apple stores, the newspaper reported, although among the more than 500 would-be costumers who queued last night at the company’s store on Huai Hai Road were 11 bus-loads of senior citizens from Qidong, in nearby Jiangsu province, who had reportedly been paid 150 RMB ($23 USD) by scalpers to stand in line. Such crowds of paid “assistants” (which also include migrant workers according to some sources) have been seen as a way for scalpers to get around the 2 phones-per-person limit which was enforced at Chinese Apple stores last night.
In the country’s north, many customers in Beijing though fared worse in their attempts to get their hands on Apple’s latest device. In front of the company’s main store in Sanlitun, customers waited overnight in below zero temperatures before being told by an employee with a megaphone that the device wouldn’t be on sale that day. According to reports, the store was then pelted by eggs before police stepped in to move crowds away from the store.
Days earlier, this same store was sight of a confrontation between what has been described as two groups of rival scalpers, who are reportedly charging 4,450 RMB ($705 USD) for the 8-gig version of the iPhone 4 and 5,450 RMB ($862 USD) for an iPhone 4S smuggled from abroad. Coincidentally, this location also saw what was described as a “near riot” last May after a fight broke out between customers hoping to buy the Apple iPad 2.
According to Apple’s mainland China website, the official retail price of the iPhone 4S in the country is RMB 4,988 ($789 USD); that is, for customers who can get their hands on one.