Reaction on Chinese social media to Apple's new iPhone 12 has been lukewarm to say the least but that has not stopped over 2.3 million Chinese consumers signing up for the US smartphone giant's new handset series on major e-commerce sites.
As of 10am on Friday, over 1.5 million people had made reservations to buy iPhone 12 handsets from the official Apple store on JD.com, a major e-commerce site in China. The standard iPhone 12 had over 737,000 user bookings, while the iPhone 12 Pro had 390,000, according to company information.
The iPhone 12 series - which includes the iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro, iPhone 12 Pro Max and a smaller iPhone 12 mini - was announced on Wednesday early morning Beijing time as Apple's first line of 5G phones.
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A check on Suning.com, a Chinese online retailer, showed over 814,000 bookings for the iPhone 12 series as of 12.30pm, led by the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro models. On Suning.com, only those who have successfully made a booking are eligible to buy when sales begin. A booking does not guarantee that the users can purchase the iPhone successfully as inventory is limited, according to rules on the site.
The hot demand is a little surprising given early reaction.
"Just looked at the specifications of the iPhone 12 and immediately lost any purchasing desire," one Weibo user wrote this week. Meanwhile many noted the absence of a charger in the new package. "I'm fine with not having earphones … but removing the charger is just too much … It's like asking me to eat without chopsticks," another user wrote.
Bookings are also available on e-commerce platforms such as Alibaba's Tmall and Pinduoduo, but reservation numbers have not been made public. Alibaba and Pinduoduo did not immediately respond to enquiries about their booking numbers.
While the number of bookings on various platforms continues to climb, it does not translate directly to sales number since no payments are required for users to make a booking. A notification will be sent to the customers when iPhones are available for purchase.
The launch event video, which was available to Chinese users through the Cupertino, California-based company's official website, attracted mixed reactions on China's social media. Aside the lack of earphones and a charger, the relatively late adoption of 5G also failed to impress.
However, some iPhone users remain loyal. Yonee Chen, a university student in the city of Zhuhai in southern China's Guangdong province, has decided to trade her current iPhone 8 for an iPhone 12 Mini when it becomes available at an offline Apple store.
"I'm sticking with iPhone because I'm so used to its operating system," Chen said. "The interactive designs on Apple's smartphones are top notch. Huawei and Xiaomi are improving but personally I think they are always following in the steps of Apple."
China, the world's biggest smartphone market, has been an important market for Apple in recent years and the company saw 225 per cent quarterly growth in iPhone sales in the second quarter of 2020 in the country thanks to price cuts, according to CINNO research.
In recent years it has faced fierce competition from Huawei Technologies and Xiaomi in China, with domestic brands also boosted by a rise in patriotic buying amid rising tech tensions between the US and China. In the second quarter, Huawei accounted for 46 per cent of smartphone sales in China while Apple had around 9 per cent of the market, according to Counterpoint Research.
However, some analysts expect Apple to re-take some ground from Huawei now that the Chinese company has had its access to US-origin technology blocked, including the chips that power some of its cutting-edge handsets.
"Apple's strategy [with the four new handsets] is to expand a new user base through a broader range of price offerings," said Eric Tseng, chief executive of Taiwan-based semiconductor research firm Isaiah Capital & Research. He thinks Apple could take 15 to 20 per cent of smartphone market share away from Huawei in 2021 if the Chinese firm remains under heavy US pressure.
Additional reporting by Minghe Hu