Sales of iPhones might be declining in China, but Apple’s September launch event still enjoys nationwide attention.

Apple’s new products dominated discussions on Chinese social media Wednesday morning, hours after Apple’s latest keynote event. Eight of the top 20 hot searches on Weibo were about the new products, as were four of the top five trending questions on Q&A site Zhihu.

Eventually, questions about the iPhone 11 Pro and the latest iPad were overtaken by other topics, but discussions about the iPhone 11 remained at the top spot on Zhihu at the time of writing.

Based on social media discussions, one of the biggest surprises from the event for Chinese audiences was Apple’s comparison of the CPU and GPU in its A13 Bionic chipset to other flagship chipsets. China’s homegrown, embattled hero Huawei and its Kirin 980 chipset appeared on the comparison chart, resulting in the trending Weibo hashtag “Apple comparing itself to Huawei for the first time.”

Apple says the A13 Bionic used in the iPhone 11 series has the fastest CPU and GPU in any smartphone. (Picture: Screenshot from Apple’s September 2019 keynote)

Comparing device specs against those of competitors is a common launch event tactic used by Chinese smartphone vendors as competition in the industry gets more intense. Huawei and Xiaomi, for instance, constantly reference each other’s devices when launching a new smartphone in an attempt to show that they have more creative features and better specs. 

But it’s an unusual tactic for Apple, which does not often compare spec sheets.

“Comparing to Huawei means Huawei has become powerful,” one person wrote in a Weibo comment that received more than 9,800 likes.

Some people joke that Huawei’s reputation may have gotten a boost by the American president.

“Thanks to Huawei’s global spokesperson, Mr. Donald Trump,” one Zhihu user said

Like many people outside China, Chinese netizens also weren’t impressed with the look of the iPhone 11 Pro when the design first leaked. Those feelings didn’t seem to change once the products were officially announced. People are really not fans of the rear camera design, even on the non-pro iPhone 11.

“Are the spiders onto me?” one Zhihu user joked in a reference to a background picture at the keynote showing multiple iPhone 11s with the dual cameras facing outward. 

The iPhone 11 comes in six colors. (Picture: Screenshot from Apple’s September 2019 keynote)

If the reference isn’t obvious enough, one Zhihu user visualized it for you.

Look closer at your own discretion. (Picture: 羊马它 on Zhihu)

Others see a popular Chinese game on the iPhone 11’s camera bump -- Mahjong, which uses a set of tiles with dots for numbers.

Future generations of iPhones designed by Chinese netizens. (Picture: Weibo)

Despite creative complaints about the trypophobia-triggering cameras, many people find some parts of the new iPhones attractive, including the lower pricing of the iPhone 11 (starting at US$699, which is US$50 cheaper than last year’s XR) and the Midnight Green iPhone 11 Pro.

“This color is so good that I can accept the ugly cameras,” one Weibo user wrote with the hashtag “iPhone Midnight Green,” which was a trending search on Weibo.

But heated discussions about new iPhones don’t change Apple’s prospects in China. In a Weibo poll started by Headline News, which is run by Sina News, more than 70% of the 636,000 respondents chose the option saying they “won’t buy” a new iPhone. Only 12.5% said they will, while 17.2% said they’ll wait and see.

Another poll by National Business Daily showed nearly half of 308,000 respondents said they won’t buy a new iPhone.

Industry analysts are also not optimistic. Patriotic fervor and powerful specs have given Huawei a huge boost in China’s high-end smartphone market. The lack of 5G may also hurt Apple’s outlook in the country, where almost all of the major smartphone makers have launched or will soon launch their own 5G models.