Apple plants its flagship in Shanghai

With its second -- and largest by far -- store in China, Apple sends a message to the market

Apple (aapl) made its first foray into retail sales in China just before the 2008 Olympic games with a standard-size Apple Store set in a newly constructed Beijing retail development called the Village at Sanlitun.

Its second Chinese Apple Store, which opened Saturday amid the luxury shops in Shanghai's gleaming financial district, is something else: A 40-foot glass tower that sits atop one of the largest stores in Asia, with 16,000 square feet of retail space and more than 100 Wi-Fi connected Macs on display.

"We believe that if we build it, they will come," Apple retail chief Ron Johnson told reporters at a press preview Thursday.

And come they did, at least for the first day. By the time the doors opened, according to ifoapplestore.com, the line of customers -- attracted perhaps by the promise of 5,000 "Made for China" t-shirts and free One-to-One memberships for the first 1,000 Mac purchases -- spiraled around the glass cylinder, up the front steps and into a queue that extended along the adjacent sidewalk. (See video below the fold.)

China represents Apple's largest potential market, whose population of 1.3 billion includes, by one estimate, 50 million tech-savvy buyers rich enough to afford Apple's steep markups and predisposed to have an affinity for the brand. The store that opened Saturday is the first of 25 stores the company plans to build in China over the next 18 months.

Below: The first video of the opening to be posted on YouTube.

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[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]

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