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An iPhone 11 Pro is displayed after it went on sale at the Apple Store in Beijing, China, on Sept. 20, 2019.

JASON LEE/Reuters

Apple Inc.’s latest iPhone 11 range hit stores in China on Friday, with short queues of die-hard fans contrasting with the hundreds who camped out ahead of some previous launches.

The sales performance of the U.S. tech giant’s latest lineup is being closely watched in the world’s largest smartphone market, where Apple has been losing ground to competitors with cheaper and feature-packed handsets in recent years.

The queues at the Shanghai and Beijing stores, which combined added up to few dozen customers, were in sharp contrast to previous years, when hundreds used to wait for hours outside Apple’s shops to be the first to grab its latest offerings.

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But much of the fanfare in China has moved online, where the presales for iPhone 11, priced between US$699 and US$1,099, started last week.

Analysts said they had gotten off to a better start than the last cycle a year ago. Chinese e-commerce site JD.com said day one presales for the iPhone 11 series were up 480 per cent versus comparable sales for the iPhone XR last year.

Among customers that took to a store in Beijing on Friday to make a purchase in person was a programmer who only gave his surname as Liu, who said he had a model from every Apple series since the 3G range.

He said he was particularly attracted to the more expensive iPhone 11 Pro, which has three cameras on the back. “When it comes to taking photos, it’s better for night shots and the image is clearer,” he said.

Other customers, however, said that they were concerned that the range was not enabled for fifth-generation networks, putting them behind 5G models already released by China’s Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. and smaller rival Vivo, and expressed hopes that Apple could make it happen for its next lineup.

“I think by the end of next year, especially in big cities like Beijing, 5G will be commonplace,” said civil servant Liu Liu. “If they don’t research this then they’ll lag way behind.”

The in-store launch of the iPhone 11 in China came a day after Chinese smartphone maker Huawei unveiled new smartphones which it said were more compact, with more sensitive cameras and wraparound screens more vivid than those of the latest iPhone, although it played down concerns about the lack of access to Google’s popular apps.

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Huawei has experienced a surge in support from Chinese consumers after the brand was caught up in a trade war between the United States and China, which has in turn eaten into Apple’s market share in the country.

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