iPhone 4 – China’s obsession with status

Long lines form before dawn. Those with a spot close to the front slump against the store’s exterior to catch a few minutes of rest in the freezing cold. An announcement is made. People panic and begin pushing. There are scuffles with security.

It’s a scene all too familiar by now to Americans. A phenomenon that happens once a year the day after Thanksgiving and turns wholesome, mouse-fearing stay-at-home moms into raging, get-to-aisle-6-by-any-means-necessary bargain hunters.

Only in this case, the lines weren’t for the latest Tickle Me Elmo doll or Nintendo gaming system. They weren’t even in America. They were outside Beijing’s Apple store for the launch of the iPhone 4S. Unlike businesses on Black Friday, the Apple store wasn’t offering any bargains. A 16 GB iPhone 4S without a contract costs about $140 more in China ($790) than in the United States ($649), even though the phones are manufactured at a factory on the Chinese mainland.

A crowd gathers outside the Apple Store in Beijing on Jan. 8, a few days before the iPhone 4S was scheduled to go on sale.

The demand for Apple products in China is so high that scalpers hire migrant workers to buy iPhones and iPads, which are then sold at a markup. The scalpers often stand within a few feet of the Apple store, holding iPhone boxes in the air and shouting “iPhone Si!, iPhone Si!” hoping to catch people leaving empty-handed (Si, pronounced “suh,” is the word for 4 in Mandarin).

“Customer response to our products in China has been off the charts,” Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, said earlier this month in a press release. Continue reading