SHANGHAI Apple Inc (AAPL.O) staged a low-key launch of its latest iPad in China on Friday, free of the chaotic scenes that plagued the tech darling's previous product debuts in its most promising growth market.
The calm, orderly queues in Shanghai and Beijing came as a surprise to many Apple fans in China, who are used to standing overnight in snaking queues with scalpers to get their hands on the latest product.
"I'm very surprised that there is no line. I thought there was going be a long line so I came over a bit earlier to pick it up," said an IT worker, Sun Xufei, who was the first in line of a small queue of around 20 people waiting outside the Shanghai Lujiazui Apple store.
The launch of the latest iPad, which features a sharper display and better camera than previous versions of the wildly popular tablet, comes weeks after Apple paid $60 million to a Shenzhen-based company to settle a trademark lawsuit over the iPad name.
Apple adopted an online reservation system that allowed it to control the flow of people to its stores and avoid a repeat of the riotous iPhone 4S launch in January, when one of its flagship stores in Beijing was pelted with eggs by scalpers who had turned rowdy.
"My friend came here last year and queued for the whole day. So I think the process now is much more convenient," said Wang Yue, 26, outside the Lujiazui store.
Apple has two retail stores in Beijing, three in Shanghai, one in Hong Kong and a network of authorized resellers. Chinese government officials said the company is looking to open two more in the major cities of Chengdu and Shenzhen.
Demand for Apple products is so high that many choose to buy from unauthorized resellers who peddle smuggled goods or from online stores that sell parallel imports. An avid Apple fan can easily buy one as they are readily available in electronics malls across China.
China is a key growth area for Apple, and Chief Executive Tim Cook has often said that the company has only scratched the surface in the region. Sales in Greater China - mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan - increased threefold to $7.9 billion in the second quarter ended on March 31.
(Additional reporting by Beijing and Shanghai newsroom; Editing by Kazunori Takada and Alex Richardson)