Apple Incs latest China foray gets weak response from iPhone buyers

Written by New York Times | Tokyo | Updated: Jan 18 2014, 19:51pm hrs
Iphone sales-ChinaShopkeepers arrange boxes of China Mobile's 4G iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c before a promotional event in Beijing. (AP)
Apple has been counting on a long-awaited agreement with China Mobile, the worlds largest cellular operator, to reverse its fortunes in China. If the muted reception Friday, when customers were finally able to buy iPhones from China Mobile, is any indication, the companies may have to work harder to whip up enthusiasm.

Instead of the round-the-block lines that have greeted Apple product introductions in China and other countries in the past, only about a dozen customers showed up to buy iPhones at the opening of a store in Beijing despite the presence of a special guest, the Apple chief executive, Timothy Cook.

Cooks trip to Beijing was a testament to the importance that Apple has attached to the introduction of iPhones on a mobile network with more than 750 million customers. The agreement to sell the iPhone 5S and 5C was announced in December, after years of negotiations.

Apple was once an iconic brand in China, where its phones have been sold for years by the second- and third-largest mobile operators, China Unicom and China Telecom. But it has lost ground Samsung Electronics, and cut-price domestic rivals.

Its market share has fallen into the single digits.

In some ways, Apples challenges echo those of other American brands in China, which gained loyal followings during the countrys boom but have more recently been subject to intense scrutiny by the Chinese media, prompting consumers to give another look to alternatives. The state-run CCTV has broadcast a series of exposs of supposed quality or ethics lapses by Western brands, including Apple.