Thursday I received an SMS and an email from mobile provider 3 telling me that I had an iPhone 5 reserved at their Causeway Bay shop and that I should “arrange to purchase iPhone 5 and subscribe the service on or after” September 21. By 9 PM I had not received an email from Apple, meaning that I didn’t make it through their reservation system for day 1. So rather than wake up every morning and sit by the computer fighting to place a new reservation and then waiting 12 hours to find out if I’d made it or not, I figured I’d just continue with 3. Yes, I know, SmarTone has the compatible LTE system but I’m already stuck with another year or two on my 3 contract so I figured the hell with it.
The Causeway Bay shop opens for business at 10:30 AM. I couldn’t get there until about 11:45 because of a meeting. Once at the shop, I was told to expect to have to wait on line for 2 hours. I couldn’t do that because I had a meeting scheduled in Central at 1:30. The guy at the shop said that I could go to any 3 shop and show the SMS and it would be honored. Okay.
So I go for lunch, I go to my meeting and then I figure there’s two 3 shops nearby. I go to the first one, 21-23 Des Voeux Road. Hmmm. There’s no line in front. That’s not a good sign. The guy tells me the shop is closed for a “special event.” That makes a whole lot of sense, right? iPhone launch day, Central shop, closed at 2 PM.
I walk down to their next shop, at 127 Des Voeux Road. This one has a line in front. I go up to the guy, I tell him my story, and he of course contradicts the guy from earlier and says I can only get the phone from the shop that’s listed on the SMS. Super.
So I go back to Causeway Bay (it’s on the way home anyway), I reach there around 2:30 and they tell me the phone is now out of stock. They take my name and phone number and promise to call me when it’s back in stock – maybe Monday or Tuesday, they have no idea.
So I head for home. I get off the MTR at Hang Hau and figure it can’t hurt to check the 3 shop there as long as I’m in the neighborhood. The young girl with purple glasses working there listens to my story and tells me they only have enough stock for the people who reserved it for that shop for that day. But unlike the guy in the last shop, she takes down my information, hands me a ticket and says I can come back on Saturday to get one. I ask her what time I should come by and she says they open for business at 9 AM. (Which, I belatedly realize, isn’t the same as them having stock when they open at 9 AM.)
So maybe tomorrow, maybe next week.
So why is this happening? Because apparently despite 3′s vaunted reservation system, anyone can walk in off the street and buy a phone from them, reservation or not, if they’re willing to sign a 2 year contract for mobile service at the same time. I mean – what the fuck, right?
For those who want to know the deal on pricing, here it is:
Without a contract, 16 gig is HK$5,588 (US$726), 32 gig is HK$6,388 (US$830), 64 gig is HK$7,188 (US$935).
With a contract from 3, the price varies according to which plan you get. The plans start at HK$138 per month and go up to HK$398 per month – the latter plan offers “unlimited” wireless data but they throttle you once you hit 6 gig within a month.
So there’s a “subscription price” for the phone and then a “prepayment price” – you have to prepay a certain amount which is then refunded back to you in drips and drabs over the course of your contract. I’m not going to reproduce the entire price table here. But let’s say you’re me and you want the 64 gig phone and the unlimited data plan. The cost of the phone is then HK$1,780 (US$230) plus an additional payment of HK$4,850 (US$630) which is gradually refunded back to you.
Or you can do interest-free installment payments if you have a credit card form Citibank, DBS, Hang Seng or HSBC. The 64 gig phone is then HK$74.17 (US$9.65) times 24 monthly payments for a total of HK$1,780.08. Plus the prepayment of course.
This being Hong Kong, there was the usual madness outside Apple’s IFC shop today. The SCMP reports that people who went in to buy the 16 gig phone could walk outside and sell it to waiting people for a price up to HK$3,000 more than they paid just seconds before. Or you could take the 15 minute ride to Sin Tat in Mong Kok and sell your HK$5,588 16 gig phone to a shop there for up to HK$9,300.
They also report that people started lining up in Mong Kok at 2 AM last night and that one shop had 70 units in stock which sold out immediately after they opened.
Mobile carrier One2Free is also selling the phones to walk-in customers, no reservation needed. Only SmarTone seems to be enforcing their reservation system.
Keep in mind, this little gizmo isn’t being sold in mainland China yet and there’s probably half a billion people in China vying to be the first one on their block to get one of these. And given that ship dates in the US have slipped to 4 weeks, I think this is going to be a hard-to-come-by item for at least the next month, maybe longer.