By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
January 17, 2014

FORTUNE — Despite a surprise appearance of Apple (AAPL) CEO Tim Cook at China Mobile’s (CHL) flagship store in Beijing, the long-awaited launch of the iPhone on the world’s largest cell phone network got a “weak” and “muted” response, according to the first report in the
New York Times
— a story datelined Tokyo that managed to work in a reference to donkey meat.

True, there are no photos of lines circling city blocks, as there were for the Chinese launch of the iPhone 5. Or mobs of scalpers, as there were for the iPhone 4S. But for several reasons that the Times didn’t mention, it’s harder to gauge the intensity of Friday’s event:

  • It’s happening not at a handful of Apple Stores, but at 3,000 China Mobile outlets.
  • To prevent launch-day chaos, reservations were required; as of Monday, the carrier had received 1.2 million and new ones were coming in at the rate of 60,000 a day.
  • This is not the first appearance of the iPhone 5S and 5C in China. China Telecom (CHA) and China Unicom (CHU) have been selling them since September.
  • An estimated 45 million China Mobile customers already own iPhones, purchased elsewhere and running at a snails pace on China Mobile’s old 2G network.

With those caveats in mind, let’s look at a selection of photos taken around China Friday and collected on Flickr by Jahangir Naina, an IT specialist living in Singapore. 

There’s lots more where those came from. Thanks @jnaina.

LINK: Crowds at China Mobile stores all across China for the  iPhone launch

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