iPhone 4 shortage hits Chinese stores

Stores in China are starting to sell out of Apple’s iPhone 4, just two days after the device was launched there.

The Apple Store at the Xidan Joy City shopping center in Beijing began selling the device on Saturday morning, causing more than a thousand customers to wait in lines outside the shop. Now the store has sold out of the iPhone 4, and does not know when more will arrive, said a sales representative for the retail outlet. Apple could not be reached for comment.

China Unicom, the mobile carrier for the iPhone 4 in China, is also facing massive demand for the product. The company reported that 200,000 users had reserved an iPhone 4 the day the device went on sale in China. Now the company has stopped online reservations for the product. So far, more than 40,000 customers who bought online have received their phones.

China Unicom would not say whether the company was seeing a shortage of iPhone 4 supplies, said a spokesman. But one China Unicom store in Beijing reported selling out over the weekend. “Already a lot of people have reserved an iPhone and are waiting,” said a sales representative for the store. “I can’t say how long the wait will be.”

The iPhone 4 appears to be selling at a faster rate than when its predecessors initially hit the market in China. It took more than a month before China Unicom reported selling 100,000 iPhone devices after the 3G and 3GS models became available last October.

It’s still too early to say how well the iPhone 4 is selling in China, said Flora Wu, an analyst for Beijing-based research firm BDA. But Apple was quicker to bring the iPhone 4 to China, which could lead to more sales.

The iPhone 4 was launched in China three months after it was released in the U.S. Chinese users previously had to wait more than two years before Apple officially released its iPhone 3G in China. By that time, many of Apple’s potential customers had already bought an iPhone through unofficial channels, Wu said. iPhones have already long been available on China’s gray market, where products are purchased from overseas markets and then resold by local vendors.

“If there is a high sales volume for [the iPhone 4], that would just mean the Chinese users are already educated on the product. They know how good the device is and how well it performs,” Wu said.

Apple currently controls a 7.1 percent share of the Chinese smartphone market, according to Beijing-research firm Analysys International. This puts the company behind Nokia, Samsung, Motorola and Sony Ericsson.

Even as some stores in China report iPhone 4 shortages, others say they still have a few left in stock.

The Hong Kong Plaza Apple Store in Shanghai still has some 32GB models of the iPhone 4 left for customers, said a sales rep there. Another sales rep at a Suning Appliance store in Beijing said on Monday morning it had sold out of the device, but that more 32GB models of the device would arrive in the afternoon.

“On the first day a lot of people came by to pick up a phone,” said a sales rep for another China Unicom store in Beijing, who said that their shop was still carrying the product. “There have been many reservations and the response has been good,” she added.

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