Chinese users are trolling Apple for not having a 5G phone

What’s left to look?
What’s left to look?
Image: Reuters/Stephen Lam
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China’s fans used to stay up late for Apple’s product launch. This time they woke up to complain that the iPhone no longer leads the mobile market.

Hours after the California-based phone maker presented the iPhone 11 series on Wednesday (Sept. 10), Chinese fans expressed their disappointment at the latest lineup on Weibo. Among launch-related topics trending on the social media platform, #iPhone 11 has no 5G version# stood out—posts under the topic have garnered some 30 million views as of writing. 5G is the fifth generation of wireless networking, which will be far speedier than current connections even when dealing with large amounts of data—in other words, great for playing mobile games.

“iPhone 11’s China market will look bad without a 5G version. As domestic phones are rushing to apply 5G, people might not want to get an iPhone 11. Domestic manufacturers will easily beat a phone that cost more than 10,000 yuan with no 5G support in China in 2020,” wrote a user. (The iPhone 11 Pro Max starts at 9,599 yuan, or about $1,350, in China.)

“This version is like a transition product. There’s nothing much to look at besides iOS. I am looking forward to next year’s if they have a bigger change. I am looking at Huawei’s Mate series more than Apple’s iPhones now,” wrote another user

Apple has yet to set a date to launch a 5G phone—Apple-focused news sites have said we might not see a 5G iPhone until well into 2020. Meanwhile several Asian smartphone makers are already selling 5G phones. Chinese phone and telecom equipment maker Huawei, for instance, last month rolled out the Mate 20. Huawei said it has more than a million orders for the phone, which comes with a starting price of  6,199 yuan ($871). Korean electronics maker Samsung rolled out the Galaxy S10, also a 5G model, in March at a starting price of $1,299.

Ahead of the launch, research firm IDC noted that Apple will have a challenging 2019, in part due to its lack of 5G devices. “Commercial deployments have begun in many regions and while 2019 is very much an introductory year at best, 2020 looks to be the year where 5G begins to ramp up,” according to a report by the Chinese-owned market research group in early September.

It’s unclear how the topic got going on Weibo, but some Chinese state media picked up on it. China News Service published a poll that asked whether people would buy the iPhone 11, and a majority of the more than 4,000 comments said they weren’t considering it because of its price and the lack of 5G support.

Some users, though, pointed out there isn’t much use to a 5G phone yet: “Don’t keep talking about whether it has 5G, which is expensive to start with. Also, 5G base stations are far from ready. It will at least take another two years [for the application] to be widespread, so use what you have first,” a user wrote under the poll.

China’s expected to roll out a commercial 5G network next month, starting in Shanghai, while in the US carrier AT&T has turned on 5G in at least 20 cities. South Korea also launched its 5G service this year.

Weibo comments don’t necessarily translate into low sales but they’re a worrying sign given Apple’s recent performance in China hasn’t been great. Sales in the fourth-quarter of 2018, after its last launch, were down 20% from a year earlier, and competition is only likely to intensify as China’s mobile market slows.