Telecoms

Launch problems

The iPhone 6 is not on sale in China

A woman holds a mock iPhone 6 plus and an iPhone 5s as she waits in a line, ahead of the September 19 release of iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, in front of an Apple Store at Tokyo's Ginza shopping district

In Japan, but not China

In 2011, a 17 year-old student from China wanted an Apple device so much that he decided to sell one of his kidneys to raise money to buy one. He made enough to purchase an iPhone and an iPad. The somewhat sinister case was remembered again this month when Apple unveiled its new iPhone 6. With its larger screen, the phone is actually “bigger than a kidney”, wags joked. Would Apple-mania once again merit the exchange of bodily organs?

News of the smartphone, along with the supersized iPhone 6-Plus, has already crashed the servers of Apple’s online store. (Apple got a record 4 million global orders for the phone in the 24 hours after it became available, double the demand for the iPhone 5 the day it was launched.)

But Chinese Apple fans were further disappointed when they found that the devices, which went on sale in nine locations including Hong Kong, Japan, the US and the UK this week, won’t be immediately available in China.

Apple needed to obtain the network access licence from the authorities before selling the iPhones in China, says 21CN Business Herald. Somehow this application failed and the date of refiling for the licence has not been determined. As a result, the exact date that the new smartphones will go on sale in China remains uncertain, an industry insider told the newspaper.

Needless to say, the delay is frustrating for the country’s telco operators, which have been counting on the popular gadget to further spur sales for 4G services. Investors were similarly disappointed. All three China telco operators saw their shares drop on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

“Apple had promised China’s three major carriers [China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom] the new phones would be launched in China at the same time as elsewhere. The carriers, have spent hundreds of millions of yuan on advertising,” says Xiang Ligang from CCtimes, a telecoms portal, adding that Apple’s reputation will “suffer among the carriers”.

Still, the delay shouldn’t dent enthusiasm for the new phones among Chinese consumers. In the past, Apple seems to have used delayed releases to build up buzz in China. And large-screen phones, or phablets, are already very popular, especially among players of mobile games. Nearly 40% of smartphones sold in China now have screens of five inches or larger, according to Canalys, a research firm.

“The iPhone 6-Plus will kill all the big-screen Android devices to become the new must-have for rich people,” Wang Guanxiong, a tech marketing expert declares.

Customers who can’t wait to get their hands on the new smartphone have turned to online stores promising to deliver them from Hong Kong, but at a premium price. This week Guangzhou Daily reported that a reseller in the Mongkok district of the city was selling the 128-gigabyte gold version of the larger iPhone 6-Plus for over $4,700, for instance, which is almost five times as much as the retail price.

Other unscrupulous merchants have been offering to help desperate customers find the new phone, even claiming that they have access to pink and yellow models “only available for purchase in Macau”.

The so-called “Macau version” costs Rmb1,000 ($160) more than the standard one, which starts at around Rmb4,400, and Guangzhou Daily says that 168 customers have already paid deposits.

“We can’t buy the iPhone 6 on the mainland now… but I can buy one from this shop, and it’s pink! I just hope it’s not fake,” one customer said.

The South China Morning Post has reported that the offer is, of course, fraudulent and there is no such thing as a special Macau version of the phone. Elsewhere, the entrepreneurialism is more legitimate. Rather than selling their vital organs, teenagers in Hong Kong have been making money by lining up outside Apple stores in the city. According to China News Service, grey market sellers have been paying the youngsters as much as $200 a day to queue up to buy phones (Apple is imposing a limit of two phones per customer).


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