Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Apple Store experience in China and Hong Kong

Hands-on with the iPhone 6S

It is somewhat of an experience to visit an actual Apple Store and is considered a privilege for people living in the Southeast Asia as Apple is yet to open an official Apple Store in this region (correction: Apple will be launching it's first official store in SEA next year in Singapore, read more on that in my previous blog entry). I can still remember the first time I stepped into an Apple Store, it was totally by accident. At that time, I was merely walking around the Festival Walk mall in Hong Kong looking for some devices which are not available in Malaysia and I unknowingly bumped into the big Apple logo on the first floor.

But that was nearly three years ago and back then I was only focusing on the new iPhone 5 which was still not available in Malaysia. So this year, I am back to document and visit not 1 but 4 Apple Stores in about a 24 hour timeframe. This trip is somewhat of a coincidence as my visa was expiring during the weekend of the iPhone 6S launch and I had the opportunity to head across the border to Hong Kong and visit the three (out of 4) Apple Stores there.

The Apple Store journey begins after the break. I will also leave in directions to each Apple Store location and the time to get there so you can also try out this one-day trip on your own if you are visiting both Shenzhen and Hong Kong.

Shenzhen Apple Store

This journey across four Apple Stores starts in Shenzhen which is dubbed the Silicon Valley of China by many because it is where most products are being manufactured. Foxconn's largest facility is located in Shenzhen's Longhua district and this is the plant which manufacturers all the iPhone and iPads you will see in the Apple Stores. Shenzhen is home to one of the 27 Apple Stores in China (including the 4 stores in Hong Kong) and the store itself is located inside the Yitian Holiday Plaza mall which is also home to a multitude of high end boutiques of foreign brands.

To get here, just hop onto your nearest Metro station (in Shenzhen that is) and commute to the Window of the World station which is part of the Luobao Line (Line 1 or the green line). Once you're there, you will need to take Exit A and upon reaching the surface (no pun intended), walk in the left direction and you will see the Apple Store on your right. Shenzhen's only Apple Store has two entrances, one is from the outside where you can marvel at the water fountain and the other is located inside the shopping complex itself.



In case you were wondering why is it called the Window of the World metro station. Well, the station is actually named after the Windows of the World theme park which is famous for all it's scale model of over 130 tourist attractions from all around the world. The theme park is just opposite of the Shenzhen Apple Store and if you look closely, you can see the tip of the 108-metre tall Eiffel Tower. I did not get the chance to enter the theme park but basically it's more of an opportunity to brush up on your photography skills kind of place.

But moving back to the topic, I have visited this Apple Store a couple of times already prior to the iPhone launch weekend and I knew I had to drop by the store during launch day. This is indefinitely the first time in my life that I am in an Apple Store during the launch day. All of this felt so surreal and yeah, I hope that I'll be able to experience something like that once more (I'll definitely be writing about it if that does happen).

After work, I rushed out to the metro station and commuted my way to the Apple Store and as I spent the next 40 minutes marveling on Apple's new iPhone 6S, the sun started setting giving the photos that extra feel. After a while, I came to realize that there is actually nothing much that is picture worthy other than the new shade of rose gold and the 's' symbol on the rear of the new 6S. In the end, I did end up with some nice shots showing the changes with the new iPhone model.

Additionally, there's something pretty marvelous about the Shenzhen Apple Store in particular compared to the other three Apple Stores in Hong Kong and that is there are actually a couple of table and chairs outside the store themselves and the free Wi-Fi actually works from those seats. So, next time if you're at Shenzhen and you need a nice place to relax to get free Wi-Fi, just head on over to the Shenzhen Apple Store at the Window of the World metro station.

I actually visited the Apple Store the week before to check if they have the iPhone 6S in display, nope. But the cases were seemingly in stock
Apple's 'Shot on iPhone 6' campaign line the bus stops just outside the Shenzhen Apple Store
The view from the benches just outside the Apple Store and yes, the free Wi-Fi signal is still going strong
In typical Apple fashion, the tiles and fountain are perfectly centered
The trees will provide some shade while sitting on the benches
The iPhone 6S corner is where everyone is
It is clear where the iPhone 6S is

Festival Walk Apple Store


A photo posted by @dickwyn on

My next stop is to head south and exit Mainland China to enter Hong Kong which is actually also part of China but is classified as a Special Administrative Region (all I know from what SAR means is that Hong Kong has access to Facebook and China doesn't). There is only two exits to cross the Shenzhen border into Hong Kong and preferably exit through the Futian port (less crowded) but either way you will be able to take the MTR (fun fact, MTR stands for Mass Transit Rail) to the Kowloon Tong station which is also the interchange station to commute to other parts of Hong Kong.

The train ride itself will take around 43 minutes and will cost you HK$ 37 which is about US$ 5. Once you are at the station, just take exit C1 which will lead you into the Festival Walk Mall (hence the name) and then walk straight and take the escalator to the first floor and viola, there's the Apple Store in all it's glory. I didn't spend much time mingling around this store as I have already been here and the fact that I was on a tight schedule to catch a 9 o'clock flight. But nevertheless, I did manage to take some photos and also played around with the new iPad mini 4.



The iPad mini 4, not exactly sure what's new
This was the first day in which the iPhone 6S can be purchased in-store. Crowded inside out and the group of people standing outside are actually selling iPhone 6S's, more on that later.

Canton Rd Apple Store


From there, I took the metro down to the Tsim Sha Tsui station which cost HK$ 6.5 and the trip is around 15 minutes. Now this is the tricky one, unlike the previous two Apple Stores, the Canton Rd Apple Store is not directly connected to a metro station and some navigation skills is required. I actually got a little lost for quite a while as I was trying to get the directions right on HERE maps. But after some wrong turns, I did made it there eventually.

It was actually pretty easy to get there, once you are at the Tsim Sha Tsui station, just take exit A1 and you should see a jewelry store on your right. So, just walk to the very end of that road (Haiphong Rd) and take a right turn and walk until you see the big Apple logo. It's not that hard to find this Apple Store but make sure you get your directions right (protip: look at the road signs).



"It is literally in front of a bus stop"
This store in particular was just opened earlier this year and is one of the unique Apple Stores as it features a glass floor in addition to the three story glass front that the building takes on. Unfortunately, the second floor with the glass floor which also has a matching glass staircase serves as a genius bar where customers will need to book an appointment. I tried asking to go upstairs but during that weekend, the second floor was seemingly closed as it was filled with iPhone 6S orders awaiting for their pickup.

But nevertheless, visiting this store is also an interesting experience especially when taking photos of the magnificent store covered with glass all around. This fairly new Apple Store is actually built right in front of a bus stop (not exactly sure whether the bus stop was there all along or was recently relocated) and with the magical double decker buses of Hong Kong parking right in front of the store, it was pretty hard to get a nice shot of the Canton Rd Apple Store. If I had time, I would have waited a little longer to get that perfect shot but I was on a tight schedule on that day so, all my pictures had buses in them.

Hong Kong's famous double-decker buses
Another look at the rose gold iPhone 6S
At this point in time, all the Apple Stores are putting the iPhone 6S on backorder but somehow, the people outside the store do have stock of Apple's new iPhones but at a higher price (~US$ 20 more). You can find these people outisde each Apple Store and not specifically on the Canton Rd Apple Store. And yes, I did ask them, they say their iPhone 6S models are genuine.

Causeway Bay Apple Store

My final stop before catching my flight back home was to Hong Kong's flagship Apple Store in Causeway Bay. This store is by far the biggest amongst the four that I visited and yes, it also has a glass staircase and this time around I was actually allowed up to the second floor but I didn't because I was lugging around my luggage and I was a little afraid that I'll break the glass, so I lingered around the first floor.



But before moving on, getting to Apple's flagship retail outlet in Hong Kong is pretty simple. As expected, take the metro from Tsim Sha Tsui to the Causeway Bay station which is something like a 10 minute ride that costs HK$ 11.6 and from there, take exit F2 which will lead you to the lower ground of Hysan Place. Once you're inside the department store, take the escalator up one floor and you should be able to take a glimpse at the giant Apple logo on your left. This Apple Store also has two entrances, one from inside the mall and the other through the grand entrance outside Hong Kong's famous shopping district.

There's nothing to spectacular about this store in particular but the usual glass design can be seen with through this store. I was here for longer than the other two store mainly because this was my last stop and I had a little bit more time to burn around plus there was a LINE event just next to the Apple Store. So, I ended my journey by taking the metro down to the next station (Tin Hau station) and I took Bus A43 to Hong Kong International Airport. In case you were wondering, the bus ride is around 75 minutes and will cost you HK$ 30.9 which is more economical than taking a cab or the Airport Express.

 Apple's flagship store in Hong Kong is pretty packed with people especially the payment counters 
Bumped into the new Apple Watch Sport in the shade of Rose Gold
The Apple Store is very disabled friendly, there's even braille on the railings 
The busy Kai Chiu Rd

iPhone 6S

Now it's time to turn the focus on the iPhone 6S. Generally speaking, I am not much of an iPhone person but I do like to familiarize myself with other tech products. Just like the cycle that started off with the iPhone 3G, the 2015 iPhone is the 'S' variant and the design looks exactly like the outgoing iPhone 6 but Apple is for the first time increasing the thickness of the iPhone but not to add a bigger battery like everyone wanted but the extra 0.2mm was to give way for the slightly thicker 3D Touch elements onto the display. 

iPhone 6S Key Specifications

  • 4.7" 1334 x 750 Retina HD display
  • Apple A9 @ 1.85GHz
  • 2GB LPDDR4 RAM
  • 16.64.128GB storage
  • 12MP rear camera
  • 5MP front camera
  • 1,715mAh battery

Like I said earlier, there's nothing to extra ordinary about the iPhone 6S. 3D Touch has potential to get better in time but when I was trying out the iPhone 6S in September, it was merely just a shortcut to jump into certain parts of the application. When I first used the iPhone 6S, I thought that 3D Touch was disable when the battery percentage is low but then I came to realize that I was not pressing it correctly. But after a few tries, it felt pretty natural and I could also do it in one hand.

Another thing to note is that the Apple Store staff do not like you putting the iPhone in reverse on the dock. They guy was like giving me that star when I put the phone on reverse to take some pictures of the new shade of rose gold. He didn't specifically tell me off but I could see it in his face. But come on, it's a reversible connector. 



click to enlarge


Every other iPhone 6S in the store was either dead
Or the were about to to deplete and they were also pretty warm
But I did manage to find one with a reasonable charge
3D Touch

Conclusion

This has been quite a fun adventure to run around Hong Kong to visit the Apple Stores, but I have still not visited the IFC Apple Store which looks pretty baller in the photos, that shall be in my bucket list. I only spent around 20 minutes in both the Festival Walk and Canton Rd Apple Store because I was on a tight schedule, maybe in the future I will do a trip around all the Apple Stores in Hong Kong.

Overall, I am pretty content with how Apple displays their products and their staff are well trained. If you have any doubts about any Apple product, they are the best to answer your query. Also, as you might have noticed that all the Apple Stores I visited are connected to a metro station and the fact that they are all sandwiched in between popular shopping spots. So, visiting the Apple Store might also ignite you to do some shopping in the surroundings.

If you are planning to purchase an Apple product in the area, I would recommend you to just get it in Hong Kong rather than buying if in Shenzhen because prices in Hong Kong is a little cheaper and the Apple Store staff in Hong Kong will also understand English.

Insider Talk

This is an interesting kind of article, it is more of a personal blogging/vlog style article in which the contents if fully based on my experience in the real world. Writing this sort of article is pretty interesting because I have the opportunity to add in some fun elements like how I nearly got lost on the streets of Hong Kong. I will definitely consider writing more of these kinds of articles in the future. Stay tuned for more articles on my recent exploration into China's internet world.

From the moment I started planning how to commute around each Apple Store, I knew I was going to write this article. A little late in production but hey, at least it made it.