- Associated Press - Friday, January 13, 2012

BEIJING (AP) - Raw eggs splattered and streaked the gleaming windows of Beijing’s Apple store Friday, hurled by angry and frustrated shoppers when the launch of the iPhone 4S was canceled due to fears over the size of the crowd.

The incident highlighted the role of Chinese middlemen who buy up wildly popular iPhones or smuggle them from abroad for resale at a big markup.

Hundreds of customers _ including migrant workers hired by scalpers in teams of 20 to 30 _ waited overnight in freezing temperatures outside the Apple store in a shopping mall in Beijing’s east side Sanlitun district.

When the store failed to open as scheduled at 7 a.m., the crowd erupted in anger. Some pelted the store with eggs and shouted at employees through the windows.

A person with a megaphone announced the sale was canceled. Police ordered the crowd to leave and sealed off the area with yellow tape.

There were shouts of “What are you doing?” and “Go in! Go in!” as some of the people were pushed away from the entrance.

Employees posted a sign saying the iPhone 4S was out of stock.

“We were unable to open our store at Sanlitun due to the large crowd, and to ensure the safety of our customers and employees, iPhone will not be available in our retail stores in Beijing and Shanghai for the time being,” said Apple spokeswoman Carolyn Wu.

The iPhone 4S quickly sold out at other Apple stores in China, Wu said. She said the phone still will be sold in China through Apple’s online store, its local carrier China Unicom Ltd. and authorized resellers.

Wu declined to comment on what Apple might know about scalpers buying iPhones for resale.

China is Apple’s fastest-growing market and “an area of enormous opportunity,” CEO Tim Cook said in October. He said quarterly sales were up nearly four times from a year earlier and accounted for one-sixth of Apple’s global sales.

Apple’s China stores are routinely mobbed for the release of new products.

The company has its own stores only in Beijing and Shanghai, with a handful of authorized retailers in other cities, so middlemen who buy iPhones and resell them in other areas can make big profits, said Wang Ying, who follows the cellphone market for Analysys International, a research firm in Beijing.

Apple is making a lot of money, so it is not too concerned about the scalpers,” Wang said.

Wang and other industry analysts said the size of the underground trade and price markups are unclear.

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