Apple Aborts iPhone Launch in China

Apple has suspended the sale of all iPhone models from its China stores after large crowds at one of its Beijing locations disrupted the launch of the iPhone 4S on Friday, throwing eggs and clashing with police. From BBC News:

Apple said in a statement that it decided not to open its store at Sanlitun “due to the large crowd, and to ensure the safety of our customers and employees”.

It also said that it was halting the sale of iPhones at all retail stores in Beijing and Shanghai “for the time being”.

However, Apple said Chinese customers can still purchase the phones either through the Apple online store or at China Unicom and other authorized sellers.

The decision came despite the fact that other stores in Beijing and Shanghai opened without incident and reported rapid sales.

In a phone interview with Bloomberg, Shaun Rein of China Market Research Group called the incident “a debacle” and said it “shows very poor retail management ability” from Apple. Hopeful shoppers began lining up outside the Apple store in Beijing’s Sanlitun district yesterday evening, before tensions flared this morning, according to Reuters:

Scuffles broke out before daybreak between security staff and shoppers, many of whom had waited in line overnight in sub-freezing weather, after an announcer with a bullhorn told the restless crowd around 7 a.m. that the phones would not go on sale as planned and that they should go home.

Police dragged some people away and photos appeared on the Chinese blogosphere of a man who had brought raw eggs in a plastic bag handing them out before people heaved them at the store’s tall glass windows.

“We’re suffering from cold and hunger,” a man in his 20s shouted to Reuters Television. “They said they’re not going to sell to us. Why? Why?”

“I got in line around 11 p.m., and beyond the line the plaza was chock full with people,” said Huang Xiantong, 26, outside the store. “Around 5 a.m. the crowds in the plaza broke through and the line disappeared entirely. Everyone was fighting, several people were hurt,” said Huang, who wanted to buy a new iPhone for his girlfriend. “The police just started hitting people. They were just brawling.”

Xinhua news reported that the crowd outside the store included organized scalpers, who have been the source of Apple store unrest in the past. One man told The Los Angeles Times that “Ninety percent of the people” waiting to buy an iPhone were scalpers, recruited to stand in line and buy the maximum of two phones allowed per person. Penn Olson posted several photos last night as the lines had already swelled, and today Charles Custer lamented the behavior of the frenzied mob:

It is unclear whether the Apple Store in Sanlitun will resume selling the phones tomorrow or not, but a guard at the store told Sina Tech reporters that sale of the phones would not resume today.

Regardless of that, I’ve got to say I’m starting to wonder about the state of humanity when the launch of a shiny phone (or tablet) continues to inspire actual violence in people. This is the second Apple launch in a row that’s seen tempers boil over, and while I’m not sure exactly what happened late at night, the idea that people feel so entitled to buying an iPhone 4S on launch day that they would leave, buy eggs, and come back to egg the Apple store in retribution is, well, pathetic.


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