There are already huge queues outside of China’s five official Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) stores in readiness for tomorrow’s launch of the iPhone 4S. At the two stores in Beijing, and the three in Shanghai, there are clearly lines stretching hundreds of meters, with reports of hundreds of queuers at each, snaking around city blocks (see more photos below). Most stores have a ticketing system to deter queue-jumpers, but that won’t stop the ‘scalpers’ who buy the phones to resell later at a profit.
The first SMS I got this morning was from China Unicom (NYSE:CHU; HKG:0762), Apple’s official partner for the iPhone in the country, reminding me – and probably every other user – that the phone goes on sale online on Unicom’s own site at 12:01am on Friday morning. So queueing outside in the cold – it’ll be 3° C tonight in Shanghai, and probably less in Beijing – really isn’t necessary. But perhaps all those folks want Apple’s unlocked device (16GB model for 4988 RMB; 32GB for 5888; and 64GB is 6788) and not be lumbered with a one-, two-, or three-year contract with Unicom.
As we saw last week, China Unicom is offering the iPhone 4S for free with some pricier two- or three-year 3G subscriber contracts. But that means that most people – who tend to go for sub-100 RMB per month data packages – would still end up paying thousands of RMB just to get the phone.
Hopefully tomorrow will pass without incident and there’ll be no repeat of last summer’s incident at the iPad 2 launch when a grey-market scalper got beaten up outside the Beijing Sanlitun store for being an ass in the queue. Here are more photos of the queues from various folks on Sina Weibo: