rained heavily all day today in Beijing. The first cold front of the autumn had also blown in air that was
14 degrees centigrade cooler than the highs of recent days. But the inclement weather mattered not a jot to the
crowds who flocked to the Apple store in Sanlitun Village. Hundreds had waited in the pouring rain for
the 8am opening – that
signalled the long-awaited launch of iPad in China (Apple's other shops in China would open at 10am).
The first in the queue was Han Ziwen, a bookshop owner,
who had – according
to a shop assistant I spoke with – been
queuing since Tuesday. Photos of him, proudly wearing his "I BUY IPAD NO1" shirt, and holding
aloft his brace of iPads (the most that one person is allowed to purchase at any one time) are already all over the Internet.
It seemed that – like the beaming Mr Han – everyone leaving the shop with an iPad was struggling to contain their excitement.
"Which one did you buy?" I asked a man in his mid 30s, who was doing his best, but failing badly to contain
a cat that got the cream look. "64!" He said with a grin that was as wide as a well-fed Cheshire cat's.
The 64GB is the top of the range model that is selling for 5,588 yuan (about US$825). "How does it feel to have
one?" I asked. Words, it seemed, were not enough to express his excitement. Instead, he punched the air jubilantly.
With that, I went inside and waited for one of the
many demos to become available. After 15 minutes, my turn came. My first port of call was the ebook application. There were
two pre-loaded books to choose from. I chose Winnie the Pooh – a favourite of mine. I had never flicked through an ebook before (as
in turning the pages with one's fingers), and at once I realised that the pundits who are forecasting a serious
decline in the sales of physical books are likely to be proved right. Suddenly, Tigger – whom
you may remember is "bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy", and "Fun, fun, fun, FUN" – pounced off the page and appeared in front of me.
"Hi! Can I help!?" pleaded
an eager-faced Chong, an Apple 'helper' (I can't bring myself to call him a salesperson, because it never felt like
he was trying to sell me anything). I thought for a moment before asking him to show me how to use the Wi-Fi. In two shakes
of a Tigger's tail, I was connected to my requested site. He then told me all about the nifty device that for 80 yuan a month
would keep me connected to the internet anywhere in China (rendering redundant any concerns about the China iPads lack of
3G compatibility). I was struck by Chong's incredible energy and unadulterated love of what he was doing.
He then spotted I
had a camera with me. "Hey!" he said, "The iPad is great for photographers! He then explained how
the card reader that's compatible with the iPad ("you can buy one upstairs") could enable me to travel light on
my journeys around China. I thanked him for the advice, and he bounced away with a cheery, "Shout me over if you
need any more help!".
No sooner had I got back to
the iPad, Chong bounded back to my side. "Hey!" he said, "I've just thought of something
you'll really like!" He then picked up the iPad, and pressed a Google Earth button that pinpointed the
Apple store in Sanlitun (homing in on the Wi-Fi signal I guessed). "Now, wait for this," he said, with
the aplomb of a conjurer who was supremely confident of his ability to pull a rabbit out of
his hat. "Enable compass!" he said theatrically as he pressed something on the iPad. "And away you
go!" The map on the iPad was then showing me that it was pointed in the direction of Gongti Bei Lu, due
south of the shop. I have this facility on my mobile device, but I must admit that it is far more digestible in
"How long have you
been doing this job?" I asked. "One year," he replied. "Before that I was in the education business
in Guangzhou, but I just had to come to Beijing to work with Apple." Chong was on a roll: "I LOVE
it!" he exuded. "I LOVE introducing people to new things, and showing them how simple it is to get
more from technology. Apple is so simple to use," he continued, "Anyone can benefit from using it."
I was dumbfounded. I had worked with Nokia in China for 5 years, and it was as if the Nokia "human technology"
mantra had been given a new lease of life.
I thanked Chong again,
who shook my hand again before bouncing over to one of the other demo tables. With people of his calibre; with such a pleasurable
browsing experience; and with technology this cool –
there is no doubt that the brand will go from strength to strength in China. What's more, Apple's long-standing barrier
for many – pricing – (which has always been the brand's double-edged
sword) is much less of an obstacle than it was before 8am this morning.
I stepped back from the table, gesturing to the mid-twenty something
woman – who was standing over
my shoulder sensing that I was about to move away from the table – to take my place. "Thanks!" she said. After a few minutes chatting I realised
that the iPad really is a game-changer for Apple in China:
Ms Wang sums up the magnitude of the shift that Apple has pulled off: "I
never thought I'd be able to buy an Apple computer, but I now realise I can buy their very latest model for under 4,000 yuan!!"
I bet, though, that when Ms Wang (and millions more like
her) has played for 30 minutes on the iPad, and had a chat with Chong or one of his colleagues about her options, the 1,600
yuan more that's required to buy the 64GB model (versus the 16GB) will – all of a sudden – seem to be quite a small price to pay.