China Focus: iPhone 5 hits China as Apple fever cools

2012-12-14 13:11:12 GMT2012-12-14 21:11:12(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

BEIJING, Dec. 14 (Xinhua) -- Apple Inc on Friday officially released the iPhone 5, the latest version of its iconic smartphone, in its second-largest market of China.

The highly anticipated debut, three months later than the product's initial launch in nine countries and regions, is widely expected to boost Apple's sales in the fourth quarter as well as its share price.

Customers can order the new iPhone through Apple's online store and its retail outlets, and also buy it from resellers and stores of operator partners China Unicom and China Telecom.

Unlike the release of the iPhone 4s, no long lines of customers were seen queuing outside Apple's seven retail stores in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen.

The cheerless scenes were partly a result of the reservation system that people buying the iPhone 5 off contract must use, a move Apple applied to avoid the chaos seen with earlier iPhone launches.

When the iPhone 4s hit China on Jan. 13, big crowds of customers and scalpers queued for hours or even overnight for the official release at Apple's retails stores in Shanghai and Beijing. A store in Sanlitun in downtown Beijing did not even open that day after scuffles broke out among the crowds.

Hours after its release, Apple Inc halted iPhone 4S sales at its retail stores due to "supply problems and chaotic crowds."

More customers, however, swarmed to China Unicom and China Telecom stores this time to buy subsidized iPhone 5 models with contract plans for fast 3G networks.

Although the iPhone 5 could still become a popular product, Chinese consumers' fever for the latest model has cooled as it offers few exciting upgrades from the earlier model.

"The iPhone 5 boosts no big innovations and is not very different from the iPhone 4s," said a woman surnamed Lou at an Apple store in Beijing's Xidan shopping street. "I might wait for the next model," added the iPhone 4s user.

Another woman surnamed Ye told Xinhua that she hopes Apple can come up with new models with major upgrades.

"The iPhone 5 is undeniably a good product. However, among the high-end smartphone category, it has a smaller screen and few bright spots, but has a high price," said Wang Yanhui, secretary general of the China Mobile Phone Alliance.

Smartphones with bigger screens or lower prices from Apple's rival Samsung and local phone makers in China are eating away at Apple's market share.

Apple slipped out of the top five spots in China's smartphone market for the third quarter of 2012, according to research firm Canalys. Samsung maintained the top spot, with a 14-percent share in shipments while Apple ranked sixth with an 8-percent share.

Meanwhile, unlike other brands, Apple has been locked in talks with China Mobile, the country's largest mobile operator with 703 million subscribers and 80 million 3G users, for years and is yet to reach an agreement to offer iPhones compatible with China Mobile's homegrown 3G network.

The widespread disappointment over the minor product upgrade and fierce market competition has dragged Apple's share price down 25 percent from its record high of 705.07 U.S. dollars in September.

Apple's stock price will not get an effective boost unless it shows signs of unveiling products with major innovations, said Wang.

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