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No crowds at Apple stores in China as iPhone 8 launches

The iPhone 8's arrival was met with a cold response in China, prompting staff at Apple stores to remove crowd control barricades.

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Few people showed up at Apple stores in China when the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus arrived.

STR/AFP/Getty Images

It's a meaningful day for iPhone fans around the world. Apple's iPhone 8 and 8 Plus have arrived, and despite shorter lines and smaller crowds than previous launches, some die-hard fans have queued as long as 10 days to be among the first to lay their hands on the new phones.

A user posts photos taken outside the Apple store in Hangzhou, China, including one that shows security guards removing crowd control barricades.

Screengrab by Zoey Chong/CNET

It's vastly different in China, though, where internet users and local publications have observed queues so short that staff at Apple stores had to remove crowd control barriers. The same has been observed in Hong Kong, reports the South China Morning Post.

That's not to say the Chinese aren't excited about Apple's new gadgets at all. On Twitter-esque platform Weibo, some Chinese internet users say they'd rather wait for the iPhone X, Apple's anniversary edition, which is set to arrive in November.

Others suggest we're not seeing the usual crowds because it's so much easier to place an order online now -- via Apple's website or its official shops on online platforms such as Alibaba's Tmall, which delivers the phone to your doorstep.

Chinese iPhone buyers can place an order for the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus on online shopping platforms and have the device delivered to their doorsteps.

Screenshot by Zoey Chong/CNET

Nevertheless, the lack of enthusiasm is worrying scalpers in China and Hong Kong, who try to cash in on the new phone releases by taking preorders or selling stocks immediately after receiving new devices for profit. In Hong Kong in particular, scalpers may end up with a loss given Apple has tightened return policies there, forbidding exchange and refunds unless the product is defective. One person in Hong Kong who sold two iPhone 8 Plus phones to a Russian trader said he earned only half of what he used to make, according to SCMP.  In China, profits are now less than 100 yuan (about $15).

Neil Shah, a Counterpoint Research analyst, blames the cold response on "declining differentiation points" from previous iPhones and an increasing price tag.

The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus "are no longer a design to show off or a symbol of status as they all look the same. So iPhone X here could be a differentiator but $1,300 for a 64GB version is way outside the reach of most consumers," Shah said in an email to CNET.

He adds that the Chinese are also turning to local rivals like Huawei, Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi because they give users a better experience when using local popular apps like WeChat (similar to WhatsApp). These brands emerged as China's top four favourites in the second quarter, leaving Apple at No. 5. They have also convinced more phone buyers to drift away from "expensive iPhones" by offering high-end features like better cameras, displays and battery life in flagship devices that are priced 35 percent to 45 percent cheaper.

Apple didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

First published Sept. 22 at 6:34 a.m. PT.
Update, 10:13 a.m. PT: Adds comment from Counterpoint Research.

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