Apple’s release of iPhone 4S in China marred by frenzy outside Beijing store

Here and Now

Thousands of Chinese gathered outside a Beijing Apple store to buy a new iPhone 4S, but the store was prevented from opening after fights broke out and police were called.

iPhone supplies are always limited in China and black market sellers typically employ teams of migrant workers to go into Apple stores and buy unlocked phones when they become available. Because of the crowds and the violence, police decided that the Apple store would not be allowed to open.

Frustrated shoppers threw eggs at the store when told the news. Though other stores in China did open and sell iPhones, after the problems at the Beijing store, further sales were halted. iPhones can only be purchased in China via the company’s website, or at the stores of its telecom partner, China Unicom, or via local resellers.

Sam Gustin, technology reporter for Time magazine, said this event shows the immense demand for these products in China.

“Sales of Apple products have quadrupled over the last year and these iPhones have become the hottest status symbol among a growing middle class in China,” he said. “That’s one thing that’s very important to keep in mind. The Chinese economy is growing very, very quickly. That’s creating this burgeoning middle class with more disposable income.”

For them, it’s become a requirement to have an iPhone.

But because iPhones and iPads and the like are only manufactured in one place, supplies can be limited. Ironically, they’re made at a plant in China.

“They’re only made in one place because Apple maintains a tight, tight grip over the manufacture of these products,” Gustin said. “It’s almost like they’re designing nuclear weapons when it comes to secrecy and control over the specifications.”

This isn’t the first time Apple has dealt with supply problems, of course, Gustin said. When the iPad and iPad 2 were released, the factory couldn’t produce enough devices even to meet demand in the United States, and global distribution was delayed until U.S. demand slowed.

“It’s to Apple’s benefits to create a sort of frenzy about the release of these products. If you can’t get your hands on one, it only makes you want one more,” he said.

There’s frustration in China, Gustin said, that these popular products are built in China, but Apple can’t better meet demand there. Apple also has just five retail stores in the country, though it’s announced plans to open a couple dozen more.

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