Hundreds of people lined up yesterday for the first official iPads sold in China, the world’s biggest Internet market, after months of gray-market action among avid buyers unwilling to wait for the Apple tablet.
Apple stores in Beijing and Shanghai as well as authorized retailers around the country began offering the Wi-Fi model of the touchscreen device, millions of which have already been sold in the US and a dozen other nations.
Analysts predicted strong demand for the iPad despite a paucity of Chinese content and the country’s huge unofficial market for Apple products, which are slipped in from Hong Kong, Singapore and the US and resold.
At the US tech giant’s Beijing store, Han Ziwen, 35, said he had camped out for 60 hours to ensure he was first in line when the flagship outlet’s doors opened at 8am.
Wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with “I buy iPad No. 1,” the bookstore owner held two of the sleek computers above his head in a victory sign as hundreds of people standing in the rain cheered.
Han bought a 16-gigabyte (GB) and 32GB version of the iPad costing a total of 8,776 yuan (US$1,305) — more than the vast majority of Chinese earn in a month.
However, “for me, they are not expensive,” he said.
In Shanghai, up to 200 people lined up outside the underground Apple store that opened in July. Apple plans to have 25 new stores in China by the end of next year.
The first Shanghai buyer, Ma Ya, a 46-year-old art dealer, said he had been waiting since 1pm on Thursday for his chance to snare a new iPad — his second.
“I already had a 32GB iPad bought from Japan. I may give the old one to an employee,” Ma said.
The 16GB, Wi-Fi version of the iPad costs 3,988 yuan (US$593), compared to US$499 in the US. The most expensive 64GB version was priced at 5,588 yuan. Customers were limited to two iPads per person.
Apple has not said when the 3G-equipped version will go on sale in China, which is home to at least 420 million Internet users and already has many cheaper iPad “clones” on offer.
China Unicom (中國聯通), the country’s second-largest mobile operator which already offers the iPhone, says it is interested in joining forces for the iPad.
The company was to start accepting reservations for iPhone 4 service contracts from yesterday, indicating it could soon start offering the latest version of the smartphone, Dow Jones Newswires said.
“There’s a growing number of Apple fans in China who have proven their interest in the iPod and the iPhone and based on that demand, the iPad will do well here,” said Ted Dean, managing director of consultancy BDA China.
However, observers say one hurdle to the iPad is that access to content is difficult for many Chinese users. Apple’s App Store is not available in Chinese and users must have dual-currency credit cards to make purchases.
However, Shaun Rein, managing director of China Market Research Group in Shanghai, said social kudos, not applications, are what most Chinese want from their iPad.
“People are buying this more for style and fashion. It just looks cool,” Rein said.
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