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Delayed iPhone launch sparks fury in China

13 january 2012, 18:22
0
Police were called to disperse the crowd after one potential customer threw eggs at the front of the store. ©REUTERS/David Gray
Police were called to disperse the crowd after one potential customer threw eggs at the front of the store. ©REUTERS/David Gray
Thousands of Chinese tech fans queued in freezing temperatures on Friday as the new iPhone 4S went on sale, sparking violent scenes when staff at the Beijing Apple store refused to open its doors, AFP reports.

Police detained at least two people after customers scuffled, threw eggs at the glass front of the store in Beijing's upmarket Sanlitun shopping district, and shouted at staff to open the doors so they could buy the new phone.

An AFP reporter at the scene saw frustrated shoppers attack a security guard outside the shop after police with megaphones shouted at the 1,000-strong crowd to go home and said the new iPhone would not go on sale.

"We waited here all night. It's not fair," said 18-year-old Tom Sun. "We're angry because this American company told us it would open its doors at 7:00 am."

Another, Li Tianye, had travelled for two days by bus from eastern China's Shandong province to get to Beijing for the launch.

"IPhone 4S is Steve Jobs' best, that's why I want one. I will be really upset if they don't open the doors," said the 29-year-old.

Apple did not immediately return calls for comment on why the retailer, one of only two official stores in Beijing, had not opened. Police declined to comment on the violence.

Some of the 1,000 or so people gathered outside the store from the early hours on Friday told AFP they had been paid 100 yuan (around $15) each by touts to stand in line and wait for the doors to open.

One young Chinese man who refused to give his real name said he planned to buy as many of the phones as he could and resell them at a profit of at least 500 yuan a piece.

"These are not fake iPhones," he said. "People want Steve Jobs' best."

Reselling is a major industry in China, where the new iPhone has been on sale for months at a premium on the black market, after being smuggled in from neighbouring countries and from Hong Kong.

But not everyone was disappointed. Some Beijing shoppers said they had bought the phone from a nearby electronics retailer after being turned away from the official Apple store.

"There was a problem at the Apple store. Too many angry people," said one, a young Chinese man who gave only his surname, Du, and said he had been waiting since Thursday evening to buy the phone.

Calmer scenes were witnessed in Shanghai, where an AFP reporter said Apple stores had opened to large crowds and the phone was on sale.

Greater China -- which includes Hong Kong and Taiwan -- has become Apple's fastest growing region, with revenue there second only to the United States.

Die-hard fans in China, which has the world's largest online population with more than 500 million users, have been known to line up for days to get their hands on the latest Apple products.

The California-based company has recently expanded aggressively in China, opening its first store in Hong Kong and its third in Shanghai last September, which brings the total to six in Greater China.

But Apple's popularity has also brought problems, with widespread counterfeiting and illegal smuggling of its products.

In July, an American blogger uncovered fake Apple stores in the southwestern city of Kunming, where even staff working there did not appear to know they were fake.

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