The crazy long queues in front of the Sanlitun Apple flagship store in Beijing upon every launch of a new iPhone have almost become ‘normal’. In 2012, Apple even canceled the launch of the iPhone 4S after scalpers broke out into a fight.
But this year has been quite different. On September 16, the iPhone 7 went on sale in China and 27 other countries. According to The Telegraph, some people already started queuing up in front of various international Apple Stores days ago. In Beijing, however, Apple fans seemed less enthusiastic.
Chinese media described the iPhone 7 China launch as “not too crazy” (“不太疯”), with “calm” scenes in front of the Apple store. The earliest queuers did not arrive before 5 in the morning.
On Weibo, some netizens pointed out that queuing up would be useless anyway because most buyers already pre-ordered their iPhone 7. But the tempered reception of the iPhone 7 relates to more than the pre-ordering process, as experts say Apple is ‘outdated’ and losing momentum.
Although it is disputable whether or not online reactions affect the actual purchasing behaviour of Chinese consumers, it does affect its brand perception – which undoubtedly will affect the brand’s growth in China in the long run.
Looking at the reactions from Chinese netizens, Apple’s alleged declining popularity has multiple causes that relate to its price, strong domestic competition, lack of innovation, and nationalistic sentiments.
Overall, social media responses to the release of iPhone 7 in China were subdued and not very enthusiastic.
Not Willing to Pay the Price
“It’s better to buy 7 apples instead, better for your health, too.”
On the day of the iPhone 7 release in China, quite some netizens posted pictures holding the iPhone 7 – some with a purchased model, but mostly were pictures of the models in the store.
According to one Weibo user from Guangdong, the lines at the local Apple stores were rather long, but many people seemed to line up only to see the iPhone 7 and “play with it” rather than actually purchasing it. For many, the iPhone is simply too expensive.
People queuing up at the Apple Store in Guangdong.
Official Apple prices of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus in China respectively are RMB 5388 (±807 US$) and RMB 6388 (±957 US$). But several Chinese media reported on Friday that scalpers often make good money from reselling iPhones, some priced up to RMB 1000 (150 US$) more than the retail price.
A 20-year-old netizen said: “I really don’t understand what people want to prove by buying an iPhone 7. Do they want to flaunt their money?”
There are more netizens resisting buying the smartphone simply because it is Apple. “Chinese people usually like to buy things if they’re expensive,” one Weibo user remarks: “And Apple knows this weak spot.”
“People have money, people are stupid,” another Weibo user explains.
Under the hashtag “Why I Am Not Buying An iPhone 7” (#我为什么不买iphone7#), Chinese netizens discussed their aversion to buying the new smartphone.
For many netizens, money is the main issue. “Why I don’t buy an iPhone? Well, for the same reason why I don’t buy a villa. Or an airplane. I don’t have the money.”
Other Weibo users also said: “I’m poor.”
“The price is unreasonable,” one person remarked: “It’s better to buy 7 apples instead, better for your health, too!”
“Why I don’t buy an iPhone? Because I like Vivo more!”, another netizen says, pointing out the strong competition iPhone has from Chinese smartphones.
Strong Domestic Brands & Chinese Nationalism
“I’d rather buy the made-in-China Huawei. I can’t forgive America and Japan for how they’ve hurt China with the South China Sea trial.”
Many Chinese netizens say they now prefer Chinese brands over Apple. Made-in-China smartphone brands Huawei (华为), Vivo, Oppo, and Xiaomi (小米) are all tough competition for Apple, especially because of their quality/price ratio.
Xiaomi’s Redmi Note 4 is priced at RMB 899 (±$135), almost six times cheaper than the iPhone 7.
But there are also other reasons that contribute to people choosing Chinese brands over foreign ones. One social media comment said: “I’d rather buy the made-in-China Huawei. I can’t forgive America and Japan for how they’ve hurt China with the South China Sea trial.”
The South China Sea verdict came out on July 12, stating that China had no legal rights over reefs and islands that are also claimed by others. The case was brought to the international tribunal in the Hague by the Philippiness, sparking anger in China. While Japan and the USA are stepping up their activity in the contested South China Sea, many netizens feel attacked and see the refusal to buy Apple product as a political choice.
Many other netizens also expressed that they would rather “support China” by buying made-in-China smartphones.
Lack of Innovation
“Apple’s innovation has become extremely low.”
Chinese entrepreneur and CEO of LeEco (formerly: LeTV) Jia Yueting spoke to CNBC earlier this year, and said he thought Apple is ‘outdated’. He also said that one of the main reasons for Apple’s declining popularity in China is that its “innovation has become extremely slow.” He said: “For example, a month ago Apple launched the iPhone SE. From an insiders’ perspective, this is a product with a very low level of technology.”
Other online analysts also predict that “Apple’s bubble is about to break.” Consumers have become more tech-savvy and have high expectations of the products and gadgets they buy: “Apple is still good compared to earlier Android phones in terms of ability. But iOs is not that good anymore. The use of Huawei is much more efficient now,” one netizen writes.
For Apple, the subdued reactions on Chinese social media do not seem to affect its international sales. Initial quantities of the iPhone 7 Plus have already sold out globally, the company said Wednesday. This means that many customers who visited Apple Stores on Friday were not even able to purchase the sold-out phones. They can, however, still continue to place orders, Apple stated. On Weibo, however, many netizens seem to have lost their interest in getting their hands on the latest iPhone.
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