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The iPhone 5 receives muted response in China

The new iPhone: it’s 20% lighter

A day after Apple unveiled its iPhone 5, one diehard fan in Shanghai was already queueing up to buy it outside one of the company’s stores in the city. That’s a farsighted move: Apple hasn’t revealed a Chinese release date for the iPhone 5 and a China Unicom official has estimated that it could be three months before the handset goes on sale. At least the Apple fanatic came prepared, pitching a tent outside the store.

He’s not the only one to get excited about the new iPhone. Within 24 hours of the phone’s specs being revealed, pioneering retailers on Taobao, the country’s largest consumer site, were advertising card cutting devices capable of transforming regular SIM cards to the thinner nano-SIM slot used by the iPhone 5.

No doubt the smugglers will be looking to get iPhone 5 imports into China long before its official launch in the country. But getting the new handset in via the grey market comes at a price. TechinAsia, a blog, says the importers are looking to sell the iPhone 5 for Rmb10,000 ($1,500) – i.e. more than double its current price in Hong Kong.

So will the new iPhone take the country by storm like previous versions? Although plenty of internet users have been expressing interest in the handset on weibo, the overall response so far as has been relatively muted. In fact, some say they find the new device a bit underwhelming. “From a product point of view, the iPhone 5 is not very outstanding. In fact, we can say it’s a ‘three-no’: no mistakes, no highlights and no surprises. It just looks like a flattened iPhone 4S,” Yang Qun, chief analyst at Warring States Advisory, a consulting firm, told Investor Journal.

“Samsung is laughing,” wrote one less-than-impressed microblogger, in a reference to Apple’s South Korean rival.

Pan Shiyi, a widely followed property mogul who regularly offers his views on weibo, even posted a graphic comparing the specs of the latest product with the iPhone 4S. His conclusion was withering: “Jobs is gone, Apple’s innovation has come to an end.”

Pan’s comment quickly went viral. Some challenged his view: one netizen called Pan “pessimistic”, adding, “[The iPhone 5] is very eye-catching, regardless of whether you are attracted to it, at least I am.” Others agreed, arguing that it isn’t easy for Apple to improve significantly on the world’s best smartphone. But the general sentiment seemed to side with Pan. “Apple has run out of ideas” was the verdict of the Economic Observer.

Product comparisons with the various smartphones already in the market also made it more difficult to present the new iPhone as at the vanguard of change. Take the screen size of 4 inches: “That would still be smaller than many of its Chinese competitors, which have 4.3-inch or 4.7-inch screens,” Fang Xingdong, the founder of Internet Lab, comments.

With China now the world’s largest smartphone market, Apple CEO Tim Cook will be watching closely. The US tech giant has been losing market share to rival Samsung in China for a while. According to IDC, the Californian company’s smartphone sales fell by nearly half to 10% in the second quarter from three months earlier, although one explanation is Apple fans may have been waiting for the release of the new model.

Samsung maintained its lead with a 19% share.

Nor were Chinese consumers hugely excited in July, when the third-generation iPad was released. While the device sold moderately well in China, the hype was a world away from the launch of the iPhone 4S in January, when Apple’s flagship stores experiencing siege conditions.

But for Chinese buyers interested only in performance, the new phone could prove a hit. The South China Morning Post reports that – since it is 4G LTE compatible – it downloads web pages five seconds faster than an iPhone 4S.


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