The new iPhone XS and XS Max hit the shelves on Friday around the world. But while there were plenty of loyal fans lined up outside Apple Stores from Sydney to Singapore, it was a very different scene in China -- a key market for Apple.

Photos on Weibo show only a handful of people gathered outside the Apple Store in Beijing’s famed Wangfujing shopping district on Friday morning.

Not much of a wait... but that doesn't mean there isn't a lot of demand. (Picture: 苹果汇 via Weibo)

Despite what it seems, the lack of crowds has nothing to do with actual demand for Apple’s latest handsets. That’s because unlike the rest of the world, in China (and Hong Kong) you can’t just walk into an Apple Store and purchase a new iPhone on the first day.

It all began in 2012 following riots outside an Apple Store in Beijing. Customers who had lined up for hours erupted in anger when Apple, unsure about how to handle the massive crowd, decided to halt sales of the iPhone 4S in the last minute. Angry mobs punched security guards and threw eggs at windows, prompting police to move in.

Since then, Apple in China has scrapped walk-in sales for new phones, setting up an online reservation system instead. Shoppers sign in with an Apple ID, request a registration code through SMS, and enter the code together with their phone number. Each customer is then assigned a time slot at their chosen store. They can pick up a new phone by presenting a valid national ID.

But on Friday, there was one Apple Store in China where you could still find eager fans lined up outside. Apple’s first store in the city of Suzhou, just west of Shanghai, celebrated its grand opening by handing out free T-shirts.

This outlet in Suzhou is Apple’s 42nd store in China. (Picture: 钟文泽 via Weibo)

The first person who scored an iPhone XS in China didn’t get it through an Apple Store though. Chinese media say the honor belongs to a man in Hangzhou, who reserved his device through Alibaba’s online shopping platform Tmall and collected it in person at 8 a.m.

(Abacus is a unit of the South China Morning Post, which is owned by Alibaba.)