iPad launch in Beijing proceeds quietly and orderly with new reservation system

Apple is launching its iPad in China, four months after it went on sale in the U.S.

Apple's new iPad went on sale in China on Friday morning with a sparse, but orderly, line of people at one of its stores in Beijing, as the company used a new reservation system to sell the next version of its iconic tablet, to avoid the skirmishes that hit some earlier product launches.

The Apple store in Beijing's Sanlitun district was very quiet at 6:45 a.m. local time, over an hour before the first-day sale of the company's new iPad, with no customers yet in line. In contrast, previous launches have seen massive throngs of people, numbering in the hundreds, waiting through the morning and even the night to buy the company's latest product.

But unlike previous launches, where it was on a first come, first service basis, Apple has used a reservation system this time around to sell its newest product to customers in mainland China. Each morning, the company is giving customers a three-hour window to register for a limited number of reservations at its Beijing and Shanghai company stores. Those who successfully receive a reservation are then told the time to arrive at the designated Apple store to buy the new iPad.

On Friday, the new reservation system eliminated much of the crowd, with about 30 customers in line minutes before Apple's Sanlitun store opened at 8 a.m. local time. Apple employees were checking customers' IDs, and allowing them to enter the store in small groups. Apple declined to state how many reservations it was granting to customers each day.

Ye Huafei, 33, was the first in line and arrived at the Apple store at 7 a.m. "I didn't think many people would come to the launch," he said, noting the new reservation system that was in place. "I think they should do it this way again for future sales."

Apple's Sanlitun store in Beijing was previously the sight of a nasty scuffle in January during Apple's iPhone 4S launch in the country. Hundreds had waited through the cold morning, only to be later told the store would not open, with Apple giving no explanation. This caused an irate customer to throw eggs at the store, which led Apple to temporarily suspend all iPhone 4S sales at its company stores in China.

Consumer interest in Apple's new iPad, however, is expected to be diminished when compared to the iPhone 4S or previous iPad launches in the country, according to Nicole Peng, an analyst with research firm Canalys.

A major reason is because the new iPad is being sold in China four months after it was initially launched in the U.S. Consumers wanting to buy it, would have bought the device from the country's gray market vendors, who buy the product overseas and bring it to China to sell locally.

Ye, however, said he was willing to wait, wanting to buy the new iPad from an official Apple store, in order to receive a product warranty. "I have an iPad 2, so I'm not in a rush," he said. Ye, a gaming software developer, added that he wanted to buy the new iPad, because his mother often uses his iPad 2 to watch movies.

While the small crowd outside Apple's Sanlitun store was orderly in the morning, customers reported problems accessing the company's site to reserve an iPad on Thursday.

"At 9 a.m., the server crashed. Later I called, and they told me to come back to the site," said entrepreneur Ray Luan, aged 35. "After an hour I could then register."

Luan, an owner of the first iPad, along with an iPhone and MacBook Air, said Apple's products have been very useful. He wanted to buy the new iPad for its more powerful camera. "I want to make sure I can get a real iPad," he said, noting that China's gray market vendors will sometimes sell fakes.

The late launch for the new iPad in China is likely tied to a legal battle Apple recently ended with a Chinese firm over the iPad trademark in the country. Earlier this month, a Chinese court announced Apple has paid US$60 million to buy ownership of the trademark.

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Michael Kan

IDG News Service

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