Hong Kong’s 1st Apple store mobbed on opening day

HONG KONG (AP) — Apple Inc. opened its long-awaited first store in Hong Kong on Saturday, with thousands of fans of the computer and gadget maker pouring in on the first day.

Some Apple enthusiasts had camped out for nearly two days to secure a place at the head of the line and be among the first to walk through the doors of the new store, where they were greeted with high fives and chants of “Apple, Apple!” by the 300 newly hired staff.

The store is located on two floors linked by a glass spiral staircase in Hong Kong’s upscale International Financial Center Mall, in the city’s central business district.

The Cupertino, California-based company’s products are wildly popular in mainland China. The Hong Kong store follows the opening of a third Shanghai store on Friday as the company boosts its presence in a key market. It also has two stores in Beijing.

“I’ve always wanted to participate in this kind of event, to enjoy the atmosphere. It’s cool,” said 17-year-old Liu Jia-rong, a high school student from Shenzhen, across the border from Hong Kong in mainland China. Liu said he had been waiting for the day that an Apple store would open near his home. He was one of the first to enter the store after joining the line at about 4 p.m. Friday.

The first person in line arrived sometime on Thursday evening, according to security guards.

Staff handed out free T-shirts to the first 5,000 people in line, which snaked out the mall and over a long footbridge to nearby ferry piers. The store is one of 30 that the company plans to open in the current quarter.

“I don’t want to buy anything, I actually have everything already. I just want to feel the experience,” said Henry Men Youngfan, a 27-year-old doctoral student who owns an iPhone, a Macbook Pro, an iPod Shuffle and an iPad. He traveled from his home in Beijing for the event, the fourth opening of an Apple store he has attended.

Apple executives said earlier this year that China was “very key” to Apple’s record earnings and revenue in the quarter that ended in June.

Revenue was up more than six times from a year earlier to $3.8 billion in the Greater China region, which also includes Hong Kong and Taiwan, Apple’s chief operating officer, Timothy Cook, said in July.

“I firmly believe that we’re just scratching the surface right now. I think there is an incredible opportunity for Apple there,” Cook said at the time.

However, analysts noted that Apple is far short of an ambitious goal set by executives early last year of opening 25 stores in the region by the end of 2011.

“China is a place with big potential, and that’s probably why Apple is investing in this place and trying to ramp up their marketing and sales efforts,” said Sandy Shen, a Shanghai-based research director at Gartner Inc.

Shen said the new Hong Kong store may put a small dent in the city’s “gray market” for Apple products, which is thriving because there is not enough supply to satisfy the huge demand for iPads and iPhones. Alongside official resellers, a parallel market has sprung up with shops selling Apple devices originally bought in other countries such as the United States and brought in by couriers to be resold at hefty premiums.