Discuss as:

Chinese get their byte at Apple's iPad

By NBC News' Bo Gu

BEIJING – Ma Li and Wang Quan were welcomed with cordial applause and a chorus of “iPad! iPad!” by staffers dressed in blue Apple shirts when they walked into the Apple store here Friday morning. The married couple, both scientists, had just waited in the rain for about 40 minutes to become a few of the first official iPad owners in China.

“We’re buying an iPad as my birthday gift,” said Ma Li with a content smile on her face. “We came here as early as 8 a.m. because we were afraid the iPads would be sold out. We are not hard-core Apple fans, but I believe in their products. They are just such perfect combination of
art and technology.”

AP Photo

Customer Han Ziwen holds up his iPad while being carried out by store employees at the Apple flagship store in Beijing on Friday. Han is one of the first customers to officially buy one of Apple's iPads in the Chinese mainland.

Friday’s iPad launch was much simpler than the iPhone release a year ago that featured long speeches by executives and a red-carpet walk by movie celebrities. But it was still carefully engineered – every customer was greeted by “iPad! iPad!” cheers courtesy of the store’s enthusiastic employees when they walked in and out.

Still a luxury
The 16-gigabyte iPad, now on sale for about $590 in 18 cities in China (18 percent more expensive than in the U.S.), is still a luxury product in a country where the average annual income is about $3,800. People living in Beijing and other major cities are better off than the rest of China, but the line in front of Apple store was far shorter than what you might see in New York or London. Smuggled iPhones and iPads have been available in Beijing’s electronic markets for some time, but only the fervent admirers could afford them.

Bo Gu/NBC News

Employees at Apple's flagship store in Beijing line up to cheer customers coming in to buy the newly released iPad on Friday.

Wu Rui, a management major at Capital Normal University, waited 80 minutes before he finally bought his iPad. As a young student, the English operation system is not a problem for him and he thinks the product is well worth the $590. “It’s very meaningful for me to buy an iPad on its first day of sale in China, and I’d love to recommend it to friends after I try it out. I just like the product.”

China Unicom, Apple’s sole partner in China, also started taking reservations for the iPhone 4, but without notifying buyers when the newest iPhone model would become available.

Apple introduced the iPad to the Chinese market just five months after it launched in the U.S. That was much faster than the release of the iPhone here when there was a two-year interval between the two events.

AP Photo/Andy Wong

A Chinese man looks aside while people line up in the rain to buy the iPad at Apple's flagship store in Beijing during the launch of the device on Friday.

Muted response
Despite the hoopla at the Beijing store, there wasn’t much attention paid to Apple’s new gadget release on China’s blogosphere. On most of the major Web portals, there were only a few comments made about the release – but there were a lot of complaints over its high cost and slow Internet speed.

“This is so sad. China has one of the lowest per capita GDP in the world, but the most expensive products,” said a user on a popular Website QQ.com. Other posts mainly concentrated on comparing services between China Unicom and China Mobile, the two biggest mobile service providers in China.

Nevertheless, about an hour after the first buyer walked into the Apple store in Sanlitun Village in Beijing – one of the only two Apple stores in China – dozens of other iPad lovers were still patiently standing outside under umbrellas in the rain waiting to be called in.