iPhone 5 Launch in China Is Cold, Quiet, and Lifeless.

Today, Apple’s popular iPhone 5 officially goes on sale in mainland China, and both China Unicom and China Telecom also start offering the iPhone 5 to customers.

If you’re thinking iPhone 5’s launch in China will draw hundreds to thousands of Chinese Apple fans at Apple Stores in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, well, it’s not happening at all. Unlike during the iPhone 4S launch which also happened on a Friday this year during January, no long queues were formed outside the Apple Inc. stores in mainland China, to get a glimpse of the thinner, lighter, faster and better iPhone 5. No one camped outside the stores during the night, and perhaps Apple is happy to see no scuffles breaking out between security and shoppers today. We have videos and photos in this article to show you the “death” of Apple in China.

In the news report above, a Chinese reporter visited China Unicom and China Telecom stores during midnight local time to check out the lines. For those customers who pre-ordered an iPhone 5, both China Unicom and China Telecom welcomed them to purchase the iPhone 5 alongside several tariff options during midnight.

Also, in the news report, a local resident was interviewed about her interest in an iPhone 5 and said, “I’m an Apple fan,”. And a China Telecom staff was interviewed about the sales of their midnight launch and he said, “Too many pre-orders, almost a hundred customers came to pick up their iPhone 5 at midnight,”.

Is this the death of Apple in China? Well, there is a reasonable explanation for today’s quiet iPhone 5 launch. Apple recently had a new reservation system in China to avoid scuffles (see last year’s iPhone 4S launch that ends with egg throwing). Since the last time we saw massive crowds outside Beijing Apple store when Apple launched the iPhone 4S, the lines were so crazy and unfortunately, riots happened. Thus it forced Apple to shut down the launch and not sell phones to the Chinese consumers. So, Apple created a new reservation system. Chinese consumers have to reserve a product online before they can buy it in the store. For the new iPad, the iPad mini, and today’s iPhone 5 launch, Chinese consumers are required to follow Apple’s new rules.

Actually, there’s another reason why no one shows up for today’s iPhone 5 launch. Apple is not offering contract-free iPhone 5 units for sale in all retail stores in mainland China. We sent a email to Apple China asking for the availability of contract-free iPhone 5, and here’s what Apple replied,

Thanks for your email. As it appears now, the only way to purchase an unlocked phone will be online. Only contract iPhone 5 phones will be sold in store. We are continuously monitoring our website for any changes.

Yeah, we visited Apple’s China online store page and we can choose to purchase contract-free iPhone 5. See the pic below.

We also asked Beijing Wangfujing Apple Store employees, and they told us walk-in customers can sign up an iPhone 5 on a contract with China Telecom at the Apple Store. But there’s no choice of China Unicom.

So, the reason why the iPhone 5 fails to draw crowds for China launch is that China Apple Stores are only offering iPhone 5 on a contract with China Telecom to walk-in customers. In the past, where thousands of people lined up outside the Beijing Apple Store and Shanghai Apple Store on iPhone 4S launch day, walk-in customers are allowed to purchase contract-free iPhones, and no online reservation is needed. At that time, Chinese customers walked into the store to purchase the new iPhone 4S, and then walked out to sell the iPhone units to scalpers for easy money. And scalpers also walked into the store to purchase iPhones in bulk quantities.

Today, Apple wants Chinese consumers to make a reservation online to buy the contract-free iPhone 5 in the store, and each customer is allowed to reserve not more than 5 units of iPhone 5.

Here’s the verdict. For any futures Apple product launch, we will no longer see long queues outside China Apple Stores. Never. Ever.

p.s. The unsubsidized iPhone 5 starts from ¥5,288 or about $850 if you reserve one from Apple’s China site.

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