BEIJING Apple Inc's flagship Beijing store was pelted with eggs on Friday when hundreds of enraged shoppers, many of whom had waited in line overnight, were told the store would not begin sales of the iPhone 4S as scheduled.
Shoppers and security staff scuffled before daybreak after an announcer with a bullhorn told the surging crowd that the phones would not go on sale and that they should go home.
Apple's latest iPhone, with voice-activated technology, was being introduced in China on Friday to great anticipation. But fears of chaos given the unruly crowd outside the store apparently prompted the cancellation.
"I got in line around 11 p.m., and beyond the line the plaza was chock full with people," said Huang Xiantong, 26, outside the store in Beijing's trendy Sanlitun district.
"Around 5 a.m. the crowds in the plaza broke through and the line disappeared entirely. Everyone was fighting, several people were hurt," said Huang, who wanted to buy a new iPhone for his girlfriend. "The police just started hitting people. They were just brawling."
Customers demanded explanations, and some, who had had the thought to bring raw eggs with them in plastic bags, perhaps anticipating problems, heaved them at the store's tall glass windows.
"I've been waiting here since yesterday afternoon, then this morning they say they won't sell," said a man in his 20s outside the store. "They broke customers' hearts," the man told Reuters TV. "Apple isn't acting decently."
"We're suffering from cold and hunger," shouted another man in his 20s. "They said they're not going to sell to us. Why? Why?"
The crowds had left the store by about 10:00 a.m.
Apple's other store in Beijing, where the crowd was more orderly, sold out of its 2,000 iPhone 4S supply by 9:00 a.m., according to Chinese television news.
Apple's products are wildly popular with Chinese customers, who are eager to be early adopters and get the latest technology first. Official resellers are opening stores at a fast pace and counterfeit Apple products abound.
When Apple co-founder Steve Jobs died last October, an impromptu memorial sprang up at the Sanlitun store with flowers and notes left in his memory. His official biography, translated into Chinese, is on prominent display in bookstores.
While the iPhone 4S has already been available elsewhere in Asia, it was only scheduled to go on sale in China on Friday.
Apple representatives in China and the United States were not immediately available for comment.
(Additional reporting by Yang Ziyuan and Beijing newsroom; Editing by Don Durfee, Ken Wills and Matt Driskill)