Crowds Turn Out for iPad's China Launch

Analysts predicted strong demand for the iPad despite a paucity of Chinese content and the country's huge unofficial market for Apple products, which are slipped in from Hong Kong, Singapore and the United States and resold.

Hundreds queued up on Sept. 17 for the first official iPads sold in China, the world's biggest Internet market, after months of grey-market action among avid buyers unwilling to wait for the Apple tablet.

Apple stores in Beijing and Shanghai as well as authorized retailers around the country began offering the Wi-Fi model of the touchscreen device, millions of which have already been sold in the United States and a dozen other nations.

Analysts predicted strong demand for the iPad despite a paucity of Chinese content and the country's huge unofficial market for Apple products, which are slipped in from Hong Kong, Singapore and the United States and resold.

In Shanghai, up to 200 people queued outside the underground Apple store which opened in July. Apple plans to have 25 new stores in China by the end of next year.

The 16-gigabyte, Wi-Fi version of the iPad costs 3,988 yuan (US$593), compared to $499 in the United States. The most expensive 64GB version is priced at 5,588 yuan.

Apple has not said when the 3G-equipped version will go on sale in China, which is home to at least 420 million Internet users and already has many cheaper iPad "clones" on offer from domestic manufacturers.

China Unicom, the country's second-largest mobile operator which already offers the iPhone, says it is interested in joining forces for the iPad. The company will start accepting reservations for iPhone 4 service contracts from Spet. 17, indicating it could soon start offering the latest version of the smartphone, Dow Jones Newswires said.

China has a booming grey market for Apple products to satisfy pent-up demand. The iPhone only officially went on sale in China last October -- more than two years after its U.S. launch.

However, observers say one hurdle to the iPad is that access to content is difficult for many Chinese users. Apple's App Store is not available in Chinese and users must have dual-currency credit cards to make purchases. But Shaun Rein, managing director of China Market Research Group in Shanghai, said social kudos, not applications, are what most Chinese want from their iPad.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2010

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