Apple fans try every means possible to buy one despite no official debut
SHANGHAI - Thirty-year-old Chen Liang acquired his iPhone 4S in a relatively straightforward way without visiting the gray market. He typed "Looking for an iPhone 4S through weibo" on the Chinese equivalent of Twitter at 9 am on Oct 17 and secured one by 2 pm that day.
The software engineer was lucky. Thousands of Chinese Apple fans are desperate for the 4S regardless of the price and effort required after China was left out of Apple's list of first and second groups of countries where it launched its latest product.
"A friend's friend in Canada put me in contact with a supplier and I'm getting one for just 5,500 yuan ($859). Unauthorized Apple retailers are setting their floor price at 8,000 yuan," said Chen, from Jiangsu province.
"I need to have one because I see the potential of its cloud computing service and artificial intelligence application. That's currently a wide open area in China. Simply speaking, other smartphones allow you to access search engines while the 4S's cloud search using Siri - a voice recognition and talking assistant - helps to filter irrelevant results and makes suggestions for you. My work-related curiosity drove me to get one because it is the future for phones."
Jin Jianhan, who works at a Shanghai-based IT company, says he will do whatever it takes to get a 4S because "it's very important to get an Apple product when it's first launched".
Jin plans to contact his friends in the United States to see whether they can send him one and to keep an eye on the Hong Kong market in case the special administrative region gets the green light to sell the devices in the third round of agreements.
"I'd try both ways and go for the overseas one first even it won't cover my domestic Apple guarantee," said Jin. "I will take the Hong Kong 4S when it's available to replace the American one."
In its first round of agreements, Apple launched the iPhone 4S in the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Japan. Apple said on Oct 17, the third day after its release, that more than four million iPhone 4S devices had been sold. That figure is more than double the 1.7 million units of the iPhone 4 that Apple sold during its first three days on the market in June last year.
The second group of countries to be licensed were mostly other European states. They will get the product by the end of October. Apple China refused to give a date for when it will be sold on the mainland.
Meanwhile, Apple fans all over the world are paying their respects to Apple guru Steve Jobs by snapping up the iPhone 4S in record numbers. Wang Bo, who works as an industrial designer in Sydney, Australia, reserved his at a local store.
"It's the last Apple product that he (Steve Jobs) ever worked with," said Wang. "I'm buying it as a souvenir."
In Huaqiangbei, an area in Shenzhen known for its many consumer electronics shops, unauthorized Apple dealer Zhou Bin has been happy to work overtime since the night of Oct 15, the first day that he received supplies of the iPhone 4S.
"The turnover on my first day selling the iPhone 4S was more than 300,000 yuan. I sold more than 40 iPhone 4S devices and had orders for 60 more," said Zhou, who claimed to be the first online shop offering the 4S in the area. "I'm breaking records every day. I was lucky that I didn't hesitate to stock up despite the high purchase price of around 7,000 yuan. He said his stock came from Australia, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. "On the busiest day, I had more than 100 4S devices in my warehouse."
In Beijing, Apple fans paid more than 10,000 yuan apiece for the 4S on the day of its arrival, according to Ma Qun, a seller at Apple House, an Apple retailer in the Zhongguancun area.
"Some bought it for personal use and some as a gift for others," Ma said. "It may take another two months or so for the iPhone 4S to be officially launched on the mainland."
However, not every retailer in the area is cashing in on 4S fever. Xu Nan, another retailer in Zhongguancun, said his shop didn't sell a single iPhone 4S although people did ask for information about the device.
While some customers are waiting for the price to fall for the latest device, sales of its predecessor, the iPhone 4, registered a good performance. Xu said he sold about 20 recently because they were far cheaper than the latest gadget.
Kong Deming, who works at Shanghai's Huaihai Road Apple Store, said prices for the iPhone 4 were reduced by around 500 yuan and 1,000 yuan for the 16 gigabyte and 32 gigabyte models respectively soon after the launch of the iPhone 4S.
"Crowds lined up in front of our store but during morning business we only sold the iPhone 4 to those who pre-booked online," said Kong. "The rest had to line up and take their chances in the afternoon."