Apple's exclusive event in Beijing yesterday was a milestone: It was the first time the company held a press conference in China to coincide with a global product release. No doubt, the invite-only gathering was a nod to the importance of this emerging market in the iPhone maker's growth.
But as far as watershed moments go, this one lacked splash. In fact, it was essentially a re-run.
The 100 or so local and foreign journalists invited to Apple's China headquarters on the 12th floor of China World Tower 3 were shown a rebroadcast of the press conference nine hours earlier in Cupertino, California. At that event, CEO Tim Cook unveiled the new iPhone 5S and 5C, a less expensive model designed to appeal to cost-conscious consumers in China and other developing markets.
For those hoping Apple's first big product event in Beijing would herald an announcement of an iPhone distribution deal with China Mobile, the world's largest carrier with a customer base more than twice the size of the U.S. population, there was only disappointment.
In fact, there was no news beyond what was already released in California, and there was no Q&A session. After the broadcast, reporters were invited to another room where two tables displayed the new 5C and 5S models. Apple spokeswoman Carolyn Wu declined to comment on the status of talks with China Mobile and why Apple finally decided to hold its first such event in Beijing.
Apple's marketing challenge in China goes far beyond just this event. The company's share of smartphones in the country is shrinking amid competition from Samsung and local manufacturers.
As for the impact of the less expensive iPhone 5C? That model will start at 4,488 yuan ($733) and compete with handsets sold for as little as $100. That makes it still out of reach to many consumers.
And as Businessweek's Christina Larson reported from Beijing, the "wow factor" of owning an Apple product wore off long ago. In her non-scientific survey of consumers there, the iPhone 5C was routinely mocked as "not attractive."
When the new iPhones arrive in China on Sept. 20, consumers will indicate whether this re-run was worth watching.
To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Edmond Lococo in Beijing at firstname.lastname@example.org