It has emerged that Apple's latest gadget, the iPad, is being sought after by many Chinese, who are willing to pay any amount to own one.
New shipments, transported covertly in the bellies of planes from the United States to China, are arriving every day in the hundreds, maybe thousands, to Shanghai, Shenzhen and Beijing, reports China Daily.
Vendors in Beijing's electronics stores say it is a seller's market. Their iPad stashes are consistently running low with no shortage of tech-savvy Chinese willing to pay high prices for Apple's latest status-loaded device.
That first depends on when Apple decides to officially debut the iPad in China. Unofficially, iPads have been for sale at electronics markets stretching from Shenzhen to Beijing since around the same time the tablet PC was released in the US last month.
Shortly after, Apple announced it was delaying its international introduction, opening up a gaping opportunity to flood the Chinese market with iPads smuggled from the US.
Analysts say such grey markets slowed iPhone sales when Apple launched the smartphone in China last October, two years after it was released in the West.
"The iPhone already had all of the new users before it was officially launched," Leo Wang, founder of Mobile 2.0 forum, a platform for telecommunication, mobile and Internet companies, said.
"The same thing will happen with the iPad. I have lots of friends who already have an iPad, and my iPad is on the way. Whoever wants one has already found a way to get one," Wang revealed.
Some projected around two million iPhones, some fake and others smuggled, were already in the hands of Chinese mobile users when Apple introduced the phone in partnership with China Unicom last year.
Anecdotal sales figures collected from vendors in Beijing suggest the same is happening with the iPad.
Chu Zhiyuan, an employee of one of the so-called Apple "authorized reseller" stores, says he has sold several hundred in recent weeks.
Compared to the one million iPads Apple says it has sold in the US, it is a small number. Yet of the dozen or so vendors interviewed, all reported similar hot sales.
"They are extremely popular," Chu said, adding that a shipment of 3G iPads that had arrived earlier in the day had all sold out in a matter of hours.
Apple unveiled an iPad model with 3G in addition to its existing WiFi feature on April 30, allowing users of the tablet PC to access the Web from wireless hubs in addition to mobile phone networks.
"Chinese will pick it up very quickly," Frank Yu, a Beijing-based tech analyst said.
"People are getting ready for it, and it will be big. People will be using an iPad and a mobile phone together and they will integrate very well with each other," he explained.
The iPad's 9.7-inch touch screen is also well-suited for playing games and watching movies, another plus for the gadget's future in China, where studies indicate the majority of the country's 404 million Web users go online for entertainment.
"It is something you can take with you all of the time because it is light, has a 12-hour battery life, and you can download games and movies. What is not to love about it, at least for the Chinese?" Yu said.
"China could be one of its biggest markets," he added.