In China, Apple Halts Sales Of New iPhone

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Apple's newest iPhone went on sale in China Friday but soon sold out in the company's retail stores — and the disappointed crowds and the fights that started outside led Apple to restrict future sales to online purchases, at least for now. Apple fans were angry at the limited supply, and blamed the company — and scalpers.


Apple has halted store sales of its iPhone 4S in China after fights erupted outside its flagship outlet in Beijing.

As NPR's Frank Langfitt reports, scalpers and angry would-be customers marked the phone's Chinese launch.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: At the Apple store in Beijing's Sanlitun shopping district, scalpers scuffled overnight causing the store to keep its door shut. Some in the crowd responded by hurling eggs at the windows.

In a statement to Reuters, an Apple spokesman said, quote, "To ensure the safety of our customers and employees, the iPhone will not be available in our retail stores in Beijing and Shanghai for the time being."

Crowds are more orderly at the Apple store on Shanghai's Nanjing Road, but not much happier. A man surnamed Xie arrived around 5:30 a.m., far behind the early birds who camped out the night before.

XIE: (Through translator) They said a thousand people have already been inside the store and I don't have much hope, because they said it's sold out.

LANGFITT: Buyers continued to exit the store and hand the iPhones to scalpers. A teacher in a black wool cap surnamed Chen was angry.

CHEN: (Through translator) I think I've been cheated. They sold them to the scalpers. The people in line just want to buy it for personal use, but now there are none left.

LANGFITT: Scalpers called huang niu, or yellow bulls in Chinese, seem well-organized. At another Shanghai store, they bussed in some 200 people from a nearby province to buy iPhones on their behalf. The recruits wore identical baseball caps as though part of a tour group.

The crush for iPhones here partly comes down to numbers. Apple has just six stores in China where the brand has tremendous cachet. In the first nine months of last year, Apple sold more than five million phones here. The iPhone 4S sells for nearly $800 on Apple's China website.

Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Shanghai.



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