Monday, May 09, 2011

Brawl at Beijing Apple store over iPad2

In China mobile phones and owning the latest device is a growing obsession. And amongst the most sought after devices is the Apple iPhone. The release of the iPhone 4 saw shortages and the rush to snap up the iPad 2 has now resulted in physical injury.

Massive queues have been seen outside Beijing's two Apple stores since its release, but by Saturday frustration, queue jumping or impatience resulted in a fracas between staff at the Sanlitun branch and some customers. The details remain sketchy, but the incident left several people injured, some reportedly hospitalised, and Apple store with a broken door and a difficult public relations exercise.

There are conflicting reports of what kicked off the trouble, some saying that scalpers had pushed in line causing anger amongst others in the long queues.

Several online posts said that a scuffle occurred between a "foreign" Apple staff member and a Chinese customer, some saying the customer had cut into a line and was a scalper. Wang Ming, 30, a customer who was at the store told the  Associated Press he had heard that the customer was a reseller. Wang says he was passing by when a bottle hit his head, causing a gash.

There are reports the member of staff had used a metal bar to hit over exuberant customers. Some say a staffer had merely pushed people back, but after the glass door was smashed, an "iron rod" was allegedly used to beat people back [Macobserver / ifeng].

Photographs taken shortly after the incident showed the heavy glass door smashed to smithereens and of some injured customers, who may or may not have been scalpers, lying on the ground.

Police were soon on the scene helping to clear the crowds, some patrolling the Sanlitun shopping precinct with dogs. Meanwhile staff at the Apple store were left picking up the pieces of what may be a PR disaster for the US firm.

Four people are said to have been taken to hospital, though the severity of their injuries is not known. Authorities have not released any official statement and Apple have not responded to media requests for information nor released any comment.

Whether or not Apple staff were too forceful in trying to protect their store or stop queue jumping, it appears clear that scalpers and resellers helped precipitate the trouble.

Lines for the popular iPad 2 have grown so long that some people began selling their places in the queue. But the biggest problem has come from a secondary market with consumers reselling their tablet computers for profit after leaving the store.

Even after Saturday's incident there were some reporting people trying to sell on the sought after electronic product. "Police with dogs is patrolling around the Apple store in Sanlitun. Outside so many sellers of iPhone 4 and new iPad 2," Michael Hakel tweeted from near the Apple store on Saturday afternoon.

The store was open again on Sunday, though queues were significantly smaller. However Saturday's incident will be troubling for Apple, who already have a chequered history in China.

In 2010 there were questions raised over working conditions after a spate of suicides at a Foxconn factory where Apple and other electronic products are made [BBC]. At the time Apple's CEO Steve Jobs insisted "Foxconn is not a sweatshop," but said the 13 suicides were nonetheless troubling [BBC].

More recently there have been complaints that Apple was failing in it obligations to customers after denying customers refunds said to have been promised in promotions for the newly released iPad 2 [China Daily].

Further reports: NY Daily News / CBSSMH / NPR / PC World

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

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