Vendors must tread carefully in APAC

16 Jan 2012

China is now pivotal to how future smartphone launches in Asia Pacific are handled, after Apple’s iPhone 4S launch became the second event to end in a near riot in recent months.

Apple reportedly halted sales of the smartphone in China after violence erupted among customers lining up to buy the device outside its flagship store in a trendy Beijing shopping district. In fact, it didn’t bother opening the store at all, resulting in the angry crowd pelting it with eggs, official news agency Xinhua states.

While customers in Shanghai were reportedly happier – though not delighted, Xinhua notes – the real question is whether Apple might face prosecution for its handling of crowds at both outlets?

There is already precedent, after Indonesian cops detailed plans to prosecute RIM’s local chief executive following similar trouble at the launch of one of its smartphones in November. In that incident, though, it was the police who halted the sale after several people were left unconscious in the crush after crowd numbers swelled, according to Reuters.

If China decides to follow Indonesia’s lead and pursue Apple for the angry scenes, company chiefs could suddenly find themselves responsible for the behavior of the crowds outside their stores.

The prospect that a PR dream could turn into a prison nightmare is sure to prompt changes in how all handset vendors play their Asia Pacific smartphone launches in future. You may see them scaling down the grand launches, or simply liaising more closely with local authorities on crowd control, but action is assured because vendors need the region to power smartphone sales.

Research firm Gartner notes that sales of the devices grew in China and Russia during 3Q11, but “stalled in advanced markets such as Western Europe and the US.” The view is echoed by Canalys, which estimates smartphone shipments in China grew 160% year-on-year to 23.2 million during the quarter.

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