iPhone 5 Sales In China Reportedly “Robust,” Despite Lack Of Lineups

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Apple’s iPhone 5 is a “hit” according to English-language Chinese newspaper Shanghai Daily, despite the fact that there were not huge lineups or riots in the streets as there were on iPhone 4S launch day. That’s because most of the new phones were sold at China Unicom and China Telecom stores, the newspaper reports, rather than at Apple’s three Shanghai stores. In Shanghai alone, the newspaper puts first day sales at around 20,000 iPhone 5s through brick and mortar retail.

That includes around 15,000 sold through carrier outlets, making for a “robust” launch according to market watchers speaking to the Shanghai Daily, and adds to the 300,000 pre-orders seen through Apple’s China Unicom alone, which the carrier itself reported earlier this week. China Telecom wasn’t as transparent about its overall pre-order numbers but a Beijing subsidiary did reveal amazing 5,000 reservations for Apple’s new smartphone.

Other outlets also report strong iPhone 5 sales, including 100,000 pre-orders from home appliance retailer Suning, which also sold 20,000 handsets through its retail channels in China. It’s hard to compare this to data from previous launches, as last year riots halted sales early with the iPhone 4S. The iPhone 4 sold 60,000 units (across the entire country, not just in Shanghai) on launch day, however, with over 200,000 pre-orders through China Unicom, then the exclusive iPhone carrier in the country. The 3GS did far worse, netting 100,000 sales only after six weeks of availability, but it also came to China two years after it had been available in the U.S.

Jay Yarow at Business Insider points out some reasons why this launch appears on the surface to be weaker than others have in the past, including the implementation of a tightly regulated reservation system by Apple to defray the kind of trouble it ran into with the 4S, and also to prevent grey market resale. Apple is also using a lot more third-party resale partners than it has in the past, and as noted above, buyers seem to be flocking to those outlets.

This launch is definitely a much more muted affair than what we saw last year, but those proclaiming that they’re a sign of a weak opening in China could be jumping to conclusions before all the data is on the table.