Cupertino, we have a problem: iPhone 6 lines and the Chinese mafia

By Lucas Tamborelli

Casey Neistat has produced the video (below), “iPhone 6 Lines and the Chinese Mafia,” which details an iPhone line outside Apple Store SoHo in New York City.

Neistat’s YouTube description states the situation rather concisely, “This entire experience was disheartening.”

Apple faces a public relations problem here. In person and via email, we’ve heard from many, many people who lined up hours early at their local Apple Retail Stores for iPhones on launch day only to find the place besieged by busloads of Chinese-speaking people who seemed motivated by something other than excitement to own Apple’s latest iPhones. Many of these were suburban Apple Retail Stores in the U.S., located far away from large cities. Very frequently these line-sitters had no English fluency whatsoever, so Apple Store employees and security personnel had a difficult/impossible time trying to manage the lines, maintain safety, assign digital numbers in the queue, etc. These were very obviously not tourists. They clearly did not live in the area. They were quite plainly bussed in to acquire the allotted two iPhones person that Apple allowed on launch day. Witnesses saw them arriving and leaving in crowded buses.

The actual Apple fans dispersed throughout the queue seemed dismayed, to say the least. Some were irate. Many discussed how they likely would not get the iPhone they wanted, that it would likely be winging its way back to China from whence it was assembled to fetch 3x times its retail price later that morning. Many complained that body odor was an issue. The place smelled bad and they wanted to leave. More than a few gave up and left the line and the Apple Store.

People used to line up at Apple Stores and they purposely didn’t preorder their iPhones. They didn’t have their iPhone shipped to their homes for a reason. They went to the Apple Store for the sense of community, for the camaraderie, for the party. At many Apple Retail Stores yesterday, this didn’t happen. If this continues, Apple is in danger of losing something special.

Here’s Apple’s problem in a nutshell: Loyal Apple customers at their local Apple Store had a BAD experience, were certainly NOT DELIGHTED, and left their local Apple Retail Store feeling DISHEARTENED and DISAPPOINTED.

This cannot be good for Apple.

What Apple can do about this is debatable, but something needs to be done. In the U.S., at least, you can’t discriminate. You can’t bar people who live 200 miles away from being bussed in to buy up all of the iPhones in order to smuggle them back into China. Therefore, having a simultaneous launch in China would likely go a long way towards mitigating this black market activity at Apple Stores and making what should be a fun experience into an AWFUL one. This seemed to help the situation last year with the release of the iPhone 5s and 5c which also launched in China on the same day. Or perhaps Apple should require that all launch day iPhone buyers have to sign a two-year contract or, at least, use Apple Pay or a credit card? Perhaps the lottery system that Apple employs in China to discourage scalpers needs to be placed in effect worldwide?

Does anybody have any other ideas?

Direct link to video here.

Related articles:
Apple’s new iPhone 6/Plus become tourist attractions – September 20, 2014
Smugglers cash in on delayed iPhone launch in China – September 19, 2014
Gold iPhone 6 Plus price hits $3,600 in China as delay fuels black market – September 18, 2014

Apple controls Chinese scalpers with lottery; online iPhone 4S sales resume – February 3, 2012
Apple combats Hong Kong scalpers with new iPhone reservations lottery system – January 30, 2012
Apple suspends iPhone 4S sales in mainland China retail stores – January 13, 2012
Beijing’s iPhone 4S turmoil a lesson to Apple, say analysts – January 13, 2012
Beijing Apple Store pelted with eggs after iPhone 4S sales canceled due to scalper fights – January 12, 2012
Huge throng of red cap scalpers crushes Shanghai Apple Store for iPhone 4S launch (with photo) – January 12, 2012
Hong Kong scalpers buy up iPhone 4S and resell them for big profit outside Apple Store (with video) – November 12, 2011
Police, scalpers, and customers clash in iPhone 4S queues at Hong Kong Apple Store – November 10, 2011
iPad 2, white iPhone 4 sparks scuffle outside Beijing Apple Store – May 9, 2011
Apple takes steps to curb rampant iPhone 4 scalping in China – October 11, 2010
Apple shuts flagship Beijing store as scalpers sap store’s iPhone 4 supply – September 30, 2010

150 Comments

  1. I’m sure if Apple couldn’t have launched simultaneously in China they would have. It appears that China has been dragging its feet on regulatory approvals. I’m curious to know if this was an issue anywhere outside of NYC.

    1. Not so sure simultaneous launch would have avoided the situation. This tactic makes more iPhones available to the Chinese market. Simultaneous launch might lower the black market premium, but there will be a shortage everywhere for a few weeks and the Chinese black market is very well developed.

      Apple could prevent this by imposing a “no cash sales” policy for the first week, but there would be all sorts of legal problems with that. (Think about a store selling 1000 phones at $1000 each for cash. That’s a lot of money in a retail storefront location)

      1. Apple could put a firmware fix in new phones so that these phones must be registered in the country that they were sold in before they can be used. They could also make it so the the EID cannot be registered again in another country for 1 year. That would end this vile black market buying.

        1. I don’t understand, an article that is basically about how bus loads of dirty, smelly scalpers/mules were shipped in and clogged up launch day lines much to the dismay of actual, and probably loyal Apple customers, is somehow racist because the scalpers/mules were Chinese??? It’s a typical article about the issues revolving scalping and paying mules to sit in line and buy up as much inventory as they can, so they can turn around and sell it for a profit, locking out some people from purchasing the exact item they want or getting any item at all.

          It’s an age old issue going back to the days of waiting on TicketMaster lines and getting shut out because the local scalpers shipped in 50 people on the line to purchase as many tickets as possible. (Many of them were dirty and smelly too.) While Apple may not be able to do much about it, it certainly is a black eye on their launch day, as a lot of people will be focused on this story.

          Suggesting that they implement a lottery system or any system, for that matter, to deter scalping is in no way racist. Having waited in several Apple lines myself, I can attest that it is a special place filled with anticipation and camaraderie with like minded individuals. Waiting in line with dirty, smelly people, who have no desire to actually own the phone and no appreciation for Apple itself, ruins the experience, no matter what race they are or where they come from.

          1. That is absolutely untrue. All iPhones since the 5s and 5c can be used anywhere even china.
            A grab from iPhone 6 specs:

            Cellular and Wireless

            Model A1549 (GSM)*
            Model A1522 (GSM)*

            UMTS/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1700/2100, 1900, 2100 MHz)

            GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz)

            LTE (Bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26, 28, 29)

            Model A1549 (CDMA)*
            Model A1522 (CDMA)*

            CDMA EV-DO Rev. A and Rev. B (800, 1700/2100, 1900, 2100 MHz)

            UMTS/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1700/2100, 1900, 2100 MHz)

            GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz)

            LTE (Bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26, 28, 29)

            Model A1586*
            Model A1524*

            CDMA EV-DO Rev. A and Rev. B (800, 1700/2100, 1900, 2100 MHz)

            UMTS/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1700/2100, 1900, 2100 MHz)

            TD-SCDMA 1900 (F), 2000 (A)

            GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz)

            FDD-LTE (Bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26, 28, 29)

            TD-LTE (Bands 38, 39, 40, 41)

            Notice the TD Bands in there? They are available on every iPhone no matter where there sold
            Those bands are for the Chinese telecoms.
            My 5s has TD bands and can be used in china with a sim card change.

    2. I like the idea of limiting sales to contract-upgrades, or Apple Pay during the first week of launch. That would really put the squeeze on the Chinese mafia. I can tell you from experience, that the 8 chinese people in front of me were all traveling together, and each one of them bought 2 phones (including “grandma”). They all used credit cards, but only one of them spoke english… Weird.

    1. So, it doesn’t matter to you that “loyal Apple customers at their local Apple Store had a BAD experience, were certainly NOT DELIGHTED, and left their local Apple Retail Store feeling DISHEARTENED and DISAPPOINTED.”

      It matters to me and it certainly better matter to Apple.

      1. Perhaps if Apple hasn’t enough phones to release in both the west and China at the same time, you believe they should release in China first? Of course you would complain about that too. Perhaps you think Apple should delay selling the phones until they have enough for everyone on the planet to get one on the first day? Then no one would feel left out.
        Do you ever think before complaining? I thought not.

          1. It’s not a matter of having enough phones. It’s the Chinese government dragging their feet on approving the new iPhones for use in China. Is Apple supposed to withhold new iPhones from the rest of the world until China gets around to approving them for sale in China? You want to bitch at somebody, try the Chinese government. Meanwhile, get over it.

      2. And what do you propose Apple do about it? Ban Chinese/Asian people from lining up for the first day? You know that would never be allowed (nor would Apple every endorse it). You can’t have a list of “mafia lineupers” because they’ll just change the mules.

        The fact is there’s not much Apple can do about it. A simultaneous China launch was not possible due to not receiving regulatory approval yet. Guess what? If you don’t want to stand in line with smelly people (and how are Americans who have been waiting in line for 1-3 days not smelly either?), then get your iPhone the next day or pre-order.

        1. This whole article borders on racist. They seem wistful for an America that would ban smelly foreigners but allow smelly citizens to line up in public. Was this article another Rush Limbaugh inspired rant?

          1. Borders on racism, but isn’t. It’s a legitimate complaint against tactics employed by those using or exploiting mainland Chinese.

            There are many Chinese (not from China) who dislike those from the mainland. Hong Kong residents in particular are fed up with piss-poor behaviour (literally) from visiting mainlanders who now have enough cash to travel, but who don’t respect local laws or customs (think your stereotypical “ugly American” tourist, but far worse). Behaviours like letting their toddlers piss (or worse) into shopping mall trash containers really turn you against a subset of people in a hurry.

            1. I never thought I would live to see Hong Kong’s citizens presented as examples of virtuous public behavior. I didn’t think it was possible to be more boorish and rude.

      3. What, Apple should only sell to USA born citizens? What about Naturalized? Apple’s in business to sell iPhones, nothing more, nothing less. I was number 8 in line at a suburban AT&T Store. You know what, there were lots of software engineers from India, should they have been kicked out of line? What about the Filipino in front of me. Stupid article

        1. Ni, but it would be great if only the locals who lived in a city with an Apple store should stay at their Apple Store. I am sick and tired of seeing tourists and suburbanites clog up my favorite joints. If your city does not have an Apple Store, then that is a sign that you should stick with Android. All the Wall-Farts and Worst Buys over in Flyover Country have Fragmandroids, so go buy those.

      4. I hope that Apple finds a way to improve the new product release day situation, but I think that the outrage is overblown. Apple is not responsible for the line-sitters and the black market operations. All Apple is responsible for is making products that are so desirable that the free market values them far above their retail price for the first few weeks or months after a new product release.

        If you want to sit in a line, then do it. If you don’t enjoy it, then don’t do it again. If you just want an iPhone, then I recommend preordering. We preordered an iPhone 6 and it arrived on schedule and my daughter has already set it up.

        Line sitting, scalpers, and the black market are parts of every economy. It is often distasteful, but the demand by consumers drives it, just like in the drug trade. The line sitters are just like the drug mules. Don’t blame them, pity them instead because they must be in financial need.

    2. Not everyone is part of the urban elite. Some areas have separation of hundreds of miles between Apple Stores. The question I have is how many Apple Stores saw this phenomenon? The film was in NYC, but I got the impression it wasn’t an isolated situation.

      1. i just came from my local mall. its saturday afternoon and there is at least 100 people in line waiting to get iPhones. most of them are asian. on any other day you’d be hard pressed to even see one asian in this mall

        1. So, lets say 50 in the queue at each of the 250 US Apple stores, on average, each buying 2 iPhones. Thats 25,000 iPhones headed for the black market, with a markup of $1000 or so. That’s approaching real money for one days work. And not a trivial process to boot.

  2. Doesn’t China already have their own Apple “division” that sells fake iPhones with a rip-off Android os designed to look like iOS? If they just stayed at local electronics stores, and supported their local talent, then maybe NYC wouldn’t be so crowded!

  3. The busloads of Chinatown refugees in my Apple Store line smelled like a mixture of wet dog, rotten fish, and used athletic socks.

    Lovely experience, Apple. Thanks so much for that. I left without buying anything.

    1. Well aren’t you racist. I already dealt with that type of racism in the 80s and 90s thank you very much. I still get “jokingly” called Mammy every time I visit some of my bros down in the Deep South. Nice to know that racism is still strong in the new millennium, even though the race of choice has changed.

      1. It’s not about racism. It’s about truth. Most Chinese people smell bad. I don’t know why exactly. Lack of hygiene, I presume, or because they eat rats and similar creatures. If you eat a lot of carrots, your skin turns orange; if you eat a lot of garlics, your sweating smells like garlic, and so on an so forth. It’s truth. I met this nice maid employed in a french hotel and she used to complain every time she had to clean a room occupied by Chinese guests. The pillows, sheets, the beds and the whole room smelled like hell, she said. Moreover, Chinese culture approves or ignores or don’t care many behaviors that are not accepted and are punished in occidental cultures.

    2. What exactly do you think Apple can do about this situation?

      If you blame Apple for what happened, not to be too personal, but you appear to have misdirected anger issues. There is no law keeping these people from getting in line — If you feel they are spoiling your experience, that’s life. I empathize, but this falls in the category of life. Things don’t always work out the way we want.

      1. Which part of the following did you not understand?

        “Having a simultaneous launch in China would likely go a long way towards mitigating this black market activity at Apple Stores and making what should be a fun experience into an AWFUL one… Or perhaps Apple should require that all launch day iPhone buyers have to sign a two-year contract or, at least, use Apple Pay or a credit card? Perhaps the lottery system that Apple employs in China to discourage scalpers needs to be placed in effect worldwide?”

      2. Apple should be happy to have such a product that scalpers love. Is there any fuc**** product that any company produce to get people in lines to buy all over the planet? Nada!

  4. No permanent damage here. People understand the situation and won’t lose their loyalty to Apple over this kind of thing. I’ve had bad experience at Apple stores and I got over it. So will others.

  5. I found this to be the case at my local apple store. I have waited in line for every iPhone launch. In the past I generally saw a representation form everyone in the community. However, yesterday was completely different. I have to say that the line management yesterday was terrible. There were people who lined up and then a bus load of other people showed up and sat with them. This was the worst launch ever. I got a phone but not the one I wanted. Oh well life goes on. Hopefully apple learns from this and has security to manage the line before 6 am when all of the shenanigans began.

      1. Do you have any values or morals at all? How do you feel about having a birthday party in the park for your child and having a bunch of people who don’t even know or like your child show up and expect cake? Then those same people take it to a food vendor stand and start selling it for a huge price. There is not enough for the intended people but hey, get over it, right?

          1. Call me a troll just because I can’t stand your selfish uniformed morals? Someone like you who didn’t have the courage to fight your government over a stupid war in Vietnam but now take pride in having been without a moral stance? You can’t even get over it and define your life by some other experience other than an idiotic pointless war. I pity you.

        1. If you bought cake for your child, it’s your frigging cake and you get to decide who gets it. Those weren’t YOUR iPhones. Apple sells them to whomever has the money to buy them. You can buy online. You can stand in line and take your chances. You can go back at a later date. Asians aren’t stealing your child’s cake.

          1. Apple ‘owns’ the cake and can decide which country they sell it in and how many they sell. The Asian Mafia are stealing the chance for ordinary citizens of the USA from buying the phone.

            Apple will sell the phones in China when the Chinese government regulations allow it. The people of China do not have the desire to wait their turn and are generally a society of queue jumpers. Visit there sometime.

  6. “First World Problems” anyone? You should be thankful that your country has many fabulous Apple Stores. China doesn’t, because of many different factors. I’m glad my hometown has the Mall of America, but you can’t say that for someone in Africa or China. Besides, there are more important things to be mad about. Like ISIS, or Russia. Keep that in mind.

  7. “Many complained that body odor was an issue.”

    Sounds like racism to me. After waiting in line in the muggy Texas night from 2am to 10am, I’m sure the Apple employee who finally handed me my 128GB gold iPhone 6 Plus didn’t find my body odor pleasant, and I’m white. Nobody smells good after line waiting all night, Chinese or not.

    1. No, it sounds like an olfactory issue to me. And the Chinese came into the line smelling like old gym socks. They smelled even worse as they absconded in their Chinatown bus with their black market booty.

        1. Trust me, the 50 people in front of the U.S. citizens in line at our local Apple Store reeked.

          I’ve been to all major Apple launch events. Unless something changes: No more.

    1. Hard to justify that.

      I have a sweet grandfathered plan, to get the same amount of data on a current plan I’d have to literally pay double (or, pay $10 more to get 10% of the current data allowance).

      You’re damn right I’m going to buy UNLOCKED at full price to keep my old plan.

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