Apple made its new iPad mini and fourth-generation iPad available to customers in China today, where its iOS devices have recently been seeing record demand. However, that wasn’t the case at the Cupertino company’s new retail store in Beijing. Lines outside the building were almost nonexistent when doors first opened, while only four customers entered the building in the following hour. Most of those who did walk out with a device sold them straight on to scalpers waiting outside.
Apple’s product launches in China are traditionally a major affair. Some have gotten so out of hand in recent years that police have had to be called in to break up fights between fans who are desperate to get hold of its latest gadget. Apple has since introduced a reservation system that requires customers to place an order online before they go to a store to collect their device with photographic identification.
However, Macworld reports that only “about 4″ customers entered Apple’s new Beijing store in the Wangfujing district during the first hour this morning.
Apple’s reservation system was introduced in China following a near-riot during the iPhone 4S release in January, forcing police to seal off parts of one Apple store and send would-be customers home. Not only does the system prevent this from happening by ensuring only those with an order turn up to collect a device, but it also reduces the number of iOS devices that find their way onto the grey market.
iOS devices are so popular in China that in recent years, scalpers have been snapping up as many as they can on launch day for the sole purpose of selling them on at a profit. That hasn’t stopped some scalpers from trying their luck, however.
The Wall Street Journal reports that despite a slow start at Apple’s new Beijing store this morning, scalpers were still “out in force.” A large group of them gathered outside of the store’s entrance to collect iPad minis from customers in exchange for cash. “Behind them, on a nearby bench, sat tall stacks of the devices.”
One group of scalpers even surrounded one of The Journal’s reporters who attempted to film the scene.
In a sign of how unruly such launches can still be, one group of scalpers surrounded a Wall Street Journal reporter who was trying to film the scene, angry at what they said was an invasion of their privacy. After the reporter pointed out that they were conducting business in a public place, they proceeded to kick, swat and push him as Apple and mall security stood by.
When asked why he didn’t intervene, an Apple store employee said he could not protect people outside the confines of the store.
One observer said that scalpers met with “a crowd of about a hundred” outside of the Apple store at one point, before those with reservations when in on behalf of the scalpers. It’s unclear how the gangs were able to gather so many people to make purchases for them.