HONG KONG -- It’s not too surprising anywhere in the world to see people lining up to buy the iPhone 4S.
But in Hong Kong, where the latest gadgets are sought at near insane levels, waiting in line to buy the handset had practically turned into a sport — a competitive, passionate and, at times, dirty sport. The chaos prompted Apple to announce that the device will now be sold by appointment only.
Preorders of the iPhone 4S reportedly sold out in less than 10 minutes on Monday. Then a line began to form outside the Apple store days in advance of the smart phone’s in-store sales, which began yesterday at 7 a.m.
Thousands tried to line up to buy the device, and a majority of them were asked to leave. About 50 police officers showed up to help maintain order. The line was divided into sections as police separated people using numbered metal barriers — elevating the idea of "herd mentality" to a new level.
Among the regular Apple fans and tech junkies were small armies of “professional queuers” who were being paid a fee by dealers to wait in line. The dealers would quickly resell the phones to other individuals or gray-market retailers for about a $200 profit. The latest model is not yet available in mainland China, where scalpers are also likely to sell them for a much inflated price.
Yesterday, while most of the city still slept, those who had been waiting were finally allowed to enter the store. Apple allowed 1,000 customers to buy a maximum of five phones each in a frenzy of sales that lasted three hours. Wads of cash changed hands just outside as dealers paid line sitters for their merchandise.
In light of chaotic crowd conditions and public displeasure over professional queuers, Apple announced yesterday that other than these first 1,000 customers, all others will now only be able to buy the phone from Apple through its online appointment and reservation system — walk-ins are no longer allowed. But not surprisingly, at the time of this post, all iPhone models are marked on the site as unavailable.