Huge crowds, safety concerns halt Apple’s launch of iPhone 4S in China

Jan 13, 2012
Tech

Apple fans in China really want the iPhone 4S. So much so that Apple halted the launch of the new smartphone in order to protect the safety of their employees. The launch, scheduled for today, saw massive crowds at Apple’s five mainland China Apple Stores, Ars Technica reports. At its Sanitlun store, the huge throngs […]

Apple fans in China really want the iPhone 4S. So much so that Apple halted the launch of the new smartphone in order to protect the safety of their employees.

The launch, scheduled for today, saw massive crowds at Apple’s five mainland China Apple Stores, Ars Technica reports. At its Sanitlun store, the huge throngs included many customers who had waited overnight in freezing temperatures to be the first to grab the new iPhone and its much-lauded and popular Siri voice-activated digital assistant software. But trouble started when store didn’t open exactly on time, and with that many voracious iPhone buyers, just like U.S. consumers, things started to get rowdy.

As NPR and The New York Times reported, as things got more and more out of hand, Apple employees apparently started to worry about their safety and the safety of their customers in the face of the crowds, and it wasn’t long before police ordered the Sanitlun store not to open at all because of the potential dangers posed by the crowds. SWAT teams even had to be called in, All Things D reports.

Apple employees announced to the crowds using megaphones that the stores would not be opening, and that might have made things worse. Angry customers threw eggs at store doors and windows and there were a few fights that broke out among those waiting.

According to a statement given to All Things D, Apple has out-and-out canceled the launch of the iPhone 4S at Chinese Apple Stores for the time being. Instead, customers will have to take to the Internet to get their iPhones, purchasing them through either Apple or the cellular carriers with whom it has partnered. Apple hasn’t said when it’ll open sales in its brick-and-mortar stores in China, but it did say “demand has been incredible” in the country, and that Chinese Apple Stores have already sold out (presumably from pre-orders).

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The good news for Apple is that demand for its devices remains crazy high, especially in the big, rapidly growing market that is China for the device maker. But I’d expect Apple to rethink the way it does product launches, certainly in China and maybe in a few other places, as well. If selling a new smartphone has the potential of turning into a stampede, Apple needs to find a better way to get products into the hands of its customers. Perhaps it could limit crowd sizes in the early going and up its online services for customers looking to make their purchases from home. And that’s to say nothing of the supply problems Apple often has with new products. If just waiting for a new iPhone got potentially dangerous, turning lots of customers away because there aren’t enough iPhones carries similar risks.

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Phil Hornshaw

Phil Hornshaw is a freelance writer, editor and author living in Los Angeles, dividing his time between playing video games, playing video games on his cell phone, and writing about playing video games. He’s also the co-author of So You Created a Wormhole: The Time Traveler’s Guide to Time Travel, which attempts to mix time travel pop culture with some semblance of science, as well as tips on the appropriate means of riding dinosaurs. Check out his profile.

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