An absence of chaos but Apple remains the bull as it charges into China shop

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James Pearce looks at why iPhone launch day was quiet compared to previous years, despite Apple once again managing to achieve record first weekend sales

Another year, another iPhone launch, so of course Mobile News sent down a reporter ready to greet the 8am queues outside the Apple Store. As I left Oxford Street tube station and walked round the corner onto Regent Street, imagine my surprise to find it, well, quiet.

Instead of finding the usual thousands of baying Apple fans, desperate to get their hands on the latest devices from the Californian manufacturer, there was barely 400 people in the queue, and around a third
said they hadn’t even queued overnight.

So imagine my surprise when, a few days later, the typical Apple press release landed in my inbox, extolling record sales, a “phenomenal” response that had “blown past” and previous first weekend since the iPhone launched. Indeed, the figures matched that – 13 million sales within the first three days is a huge figure, dwarfing the 10 million record set by the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, and much higher than any of its competitors could boast. Clearly, Apple had once again sold a lot of phones and its success is undeniable – right?

Well, they say the numbers don’t lie, but they also don’t always reflect the whole truth. Despite the fact the iPhones 6s and 6s Plus clearly marked its position as the quickest selling iPhone ever, the buzz around the device didn’t seem to match up.

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China factor
The answer lies in Tim Cook’s presentation just two weeks earlier. Unveiling the device, in front of a record 7,000 journalists and fans in San Francisco,

Cook said the device would go on sale in more countries than ever – 12, to be precise.  That’s just two more than the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, but one of those countries just happens to be the biggest mobile market on the planet.

There is no denying the amazing success that the iPhone has seen in China since it first went on sale in that market in 2013. Between the launch of the iPhone 6 and the launch of the iPhone 6 Plus, Apple saw sales in the region grow by 75 per cent, while it reported Q3 earnings of $13.2 billion from the Greater China region (China, Hong Kong and Taiwan), up 112 per cent on the previous year.

China is the world’s fastest growing smartphone market, and the world’s biggest with 1.3 billion users. Adding China to the release day of the iPhone 6s was really smart.

Analyst estimates put iPhone 6s and 6s sales in China at between 2-3 million. In other words, the difference in opening weekend sales between the iPhone 6s and its predecessor.

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Queue cutter
Perhaps I’m being unfair. Selling 10 million phones within three days is a fantastic achievement, so adding almost a third to that total is nothing less than impressive. Apple still knows how to build up hype better than any of its rivals.

Apple also contributed to smaller queues itself through its new pre-order system, that allowed people to order their device online and jump straight to the front of the queue, cutting out the need to camp overnight.

Having been there at 7am on the morning it went on sale, it is difficult not to feel like the core ingredients that have traditionally made the day an iPhone goes on sale such a spectacle were missing.

The crowd seemed to agree. Many I spoke to said they had queued in previous years, and although most said the atmosphere overnight had been fun and friendly, they all lamented how quiet it was, while secretly enjoying being nearer the front due to smaller crowds.

The atmosphere at these events is normally a highlight but it was very quiet. In fact, the loudest reaction came when Samsung sent down a flash mob to advertise its new Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+ device. Of course, most of that noise was boos and jeers, but it demonstrates just how flat the whole thing fell.

Does this mean it is the end of “Apple Launch chaos” as its became known?

Probably not. Apple still has the biggest launches out of any smartphone manufacturer and it is hard to see that changing in the near future. It may just mean less juicy stories for Mobile News when we cover them.

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