Among China's hyper-connected youth, it didn't take long for word to spread that Steve Jobs, creator of their beloved iPads and iPhones, was dead.
Apple's Beijing flagship store in the eastern neighbourhood of Sanlitun is always busy – part shopping destination for the young and well-off, part tourist attraction for those who aspire to buy but can't yet afford to. In the waning days of China's week-long national holiday, its aisles were jammed as usual Thursday morning. But outside, a group of four university students were among the first to lay flowers – one white chrysanthemum each, with a handwritten note saying "Thx."
"We heard this morning on the Internet, on Weibo," said Lu Chaoran, 20, a student of German at Anhui University, who travelled with her friends to Beijing for the holiday.
All four – though students from a poor, landlocked province in eastern China – own iTouches or iPhones; one even boasts an iPad 2. And all have not only heard of Mr. Jobs but have seen him speak, by watching streamed video during the launch of iPad 2.
"He has a crazy brain, he is so intelligent," said Meng Yutong, also 20, a journalism student. "He really changed the world."
These are typical customers for Apple in China: young, ambitious, English-speaking and extremely connected despite Chinese bans on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.
The company is fighting a long-running battle against counterfeit Apple goods in the country, including several fake Apple stores discovered earlier this year in which even the employees thought they were working for the real thing.
But imitation may be the best flattery: Apple's revenue in greater China, which includes Taiwan and Hong Kong, hit $3.8-billion in this year's second quarter, six times more than the same period last year and beating out even domestic favourite Lenovo. China is now the world's second-largest market for Apple apps. And the iPad 2 is so popular that it sold out some four hours after arriving in Beijing in May; the long lines and presence of scalpers then provoked a scuffle that shattered a glass door in the store.
Laying flowers in public as a show of grief is infrequent in tightly controlled China, where such acts risk being seen as political. By the end of the day Thursday, about two dozen other bouquets joined Ms. Li and Ms. Meng's chrysanthemums, along with a row of apples, each with a bite out of one side to mimic the iconic logo. A row of onlookers, many taking pictures with their iPhones, kept a respectful distance from a large black and white photo of Mr. Jobs.
Online, though, an outpouring of grief began as soon as the news emerged, and continued through the day, becoming the hottest item of discussion on Sina Weibo and its competing portal, Baidu Trend. By late afternoon, Mr. Jobs' death was the subject of 36-million microblog postings on Weibo, whose parent Sina has created a memorial page.
"I think this time God wants an iPhone. That's why he took away Jobs. Have a safe trip!" posted Feelon Xiaolong.
"I now understand why the iPhone 5 can only be called iPhone 4S, because that stands for 'iPhone for Steve,'" wrote another Chinese microblogger, Xue Qi, referring to Apple's release of the revamped phone. "I will buy a new iPhone 4S to remember the great Jobs."
Former Google China president Li Kaifu, now CEO of Innovation Works, also added his thoughts to the web portal, according to Xinhua news agency. "Your products changed the world and your thoughts influenced a generation. May you rest in peace."