CHINA> Regional
iPhone sets up Apple cart for crazy fans
By Gan Tian and Wang Xing (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-10-31 08:38

Cliched undoubtedly, but the early bird did catch the Apple worm and fortune did favor those who braved Friday's cold and rain with a trendy gadget called iPhone.

In Beijing, a large crowd gathered at The Place shopping center many hours before the much-hyped iPhone was officially launched on the Chinese mainland.

iPhone sets up Apple cart for crazy fans

Liu Xinling shows off the certificate that she got for being the first person to buy an iPhone online on the Chinese mainland on Friday. Wang Jing 

A few hundred people queued up at The Place, with Henan province native Zhi Xianzhong in the front. The 32-year-old became the first person to get the iPhone from China Unicom, Apple's partner, at 7 pm after weathering the cold and rain for 7 hours and 40 minutes.

The handset, which Zhi said would be a gift for his wife, came with a certificate.

Liu Xinling, 25, too got a certificate from China Unicom, for she was the first to book a handset online at 00:02 am on Oct 1.

"I kept refreshing the Unicom website continually before logging on to book the handset," she said.

An iPhone 3GS handset (without connection) costs 4,999 yuan ($733), more than half of the country's per capita urban disposable income, and about 25 percent more than what it sells for in Hong Kong.

But the high price did not scare away iPhone fans, who love the gadget for its "creative functions, breathtaking design and faster speed".

Hundreds of fans cheered when the Apple store in Sanlitun opened sales at 8 pm. Zhao Xin, 31, a salesman, became the first to buy the iPhone from the store.

With pop music, flashlights, fashionistas and shoppers, the Sanlitun store became a big party venue for buyers. The store had made arrangements for its staff to help buyers install software and know more about it. The proud new owners also got help from the slides in the three giant iPhones hanging from the glass walls.

Soon, Apple fans were seen "helloing" each other and making plans for celebrating their luck.

Li Liang, 25, bought an iPhone even though he was not happy that the official handset was not equipped with WiFi.

"I know a lot of fans are like me. They have a touch of iPod, which has WiFi, and they buy an official iPhone that has some localized functions," Li said.

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Luo Baohuang, a public relations manager, and a few iPhone fanclub members even threw a party at a restaurant to celebrate the occasion after they bought the official iPhones online. Luo, 29, has been using Apple's products for about eight years.

iPhone's official debut on the Chinese mainland has encouraged fans a lot, he said. "We no longer have to go to Hong Kong or the US to buy them," Luo said.

The launch, however, has put users of unauthorized iPhones in a dilemma. It is estimated that the mainland has 700,000 to 1 million unauthorized iPhone users, who smuggled the sets from overseas.

Wang Hongliang is glad that she resisted buying a pirated set. "An unauthorized set has no guarantee of after-purchase service, and you need to re-install its system from time to time, so I waited for the official one," she said.

Some fans are considering giving up their unauthorized phones and buying a "real" one because it has all the functions, Huang Luxia, a 25-year-old white-collar worker, said.

Apple first held talks with China Mobile in 2007 to introduce iPhone on the mainland. But it later turned to China Unicom, which adopted the 3G standard that Apple's iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS are compatible with.

Experts said China's ban on the WiFi function in cellphones, the amount of handset subsidy, and Apple's insistence on running its store in China were the major obstacles that had kept iPhones out until Friday.

China Unicom wished the stylish handset to boost its 3G service, launched earlier this year, and help attract elite users from rival China Mobile.