iPhone 4S chaos in Hong Kong shows passion for brand

While other businesses can only imagine, Apple must be pleased with how markets react to whatever they sell. If pre-orders of iPhone 4S lasted less than an hour in the United States, in Hong Kong — a much smaller territory, mind you — the frenzy only lasted a mere 10 minutes. Some friends shared Facebook photos of broken F5 desktop keyboards apparently from the constant browser update required to get into the ordering process.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/williamli1983

As it was in the past, Hong Kong was caught in the iPhone fever on Thursday when more than 1,500 would-be buyers lined up at Apple’s flagship store in ifc. iPhone 4S was launched in Hong Kong last Friday at 7am. Those in the queue not only consisted of hardcore fans and resellers keen on making a killing at the grey market, there were also the elderly and parents supporting their younger family members as part of the group. And just like any much-awaited event, people in the queue were more than prepared for the long hours of wait amid chilly weather conditions; mats, tents, chairs and blankets were all a common sight. Michael Wong, 40, the first in line, started queueing on Sunday.

To join the queue for the product launch, ostensibly scheduled on a weekday to avoid weekend pandemonium, some workers had to take the day off and students skipped school just to join the line. Those far back in the queue had no idea whether there was enough iPhones available to accommodate them. But they had to take their chances. Reports of a software bug that caused lower battery life for iPhone 4S did not deter the buyer frenzy, an usual observation in Hong Kong during Apple product launches. It’s no wonder that buyers braved the cool weather because they could sell these units for up to six times their original price in the grey market, if they wanted to.

Tensions were high when about 200 of those who joined the line were told that they did not follow the proper queue. About 40 police officers and ten more from the Police Tactical Unit were deployed later in the day to ensure order. Weird as it may seem, such arrangements occur in Hong Kong, where resilient Apple fans (and enterprising early-bird folks) are rewarded. They pay people to join the queue on their behalf, and take personal pride in getting hold of a device hard to reach by many others.

In hindsight, the chaos in line — police had to intervene at some point to resolve squabbles while newcomers were not admitted — indicates a heavy demand for Apple’s latest product. iPhone 4S is expected to launch in China by December but signals already point to brisk sales. Some fans in the mainland who couldn’t wait for the iPhone’s official release in China flew into Hong Kong to join the line.

More than four million of its smartphones have been sold since its world debut in markets including Germany, Britain, France, Japan and Australia on October 14, according to the company. If it was not enough that Apple made a killing at the smartphone market in Hong Kong this past week, Adobe’s announcement of halting Flash player for mobile browsers swayed the favor further towards Apple, whose products do not support Flash.

Somewhere, Steve Jobs must be smiling.