When Apple unveiled the iPhone 11 series last week, skeptics were quick to predict its demise. Some complained about the triple-camera design that triggered trypophobia nightmares and comparisons with spider eyes. Others saw the lack of 5G as an Achilles' heel, especially in China, where there are plenty of domestic alternatives.

So doubters were in for a surprise this past weekend when the new handsets opened for pre-order in China. First-day demand for the iPhone 11 on Tmall was up 335% compared with the iPhone XR last year, according to National Business Daily.

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

Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who has a track record of accurate predictions regarding Apple, also increased estimates for new iPhone shipments this year from 65-70 million units to 70-75 million units. He cited a healthy interest from Chinese consumers for the base iPhone 11 model, which launches at a starting price of around 1,000 yuan (US$140) less than last year’s comparable iPhone XR.

The iPhone 11, shown here, lacks the 12MP telephoto lens found on the iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max. But the iPhone 11 is at least US$450 cheaper than the iPhone 11 Pro in China. (Picture: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)

Price always matters to consumers, of course -- but it seems to matter more in China than elsewhere.

As Stratechery’s Ben Thompson pointed out, Apple managed to rescue plunging iPhone sales in China earlier this year simply by cutting prices. Part of the reason, it seems, is because Chinese consumers have fewer qualms about switching between iOS and Android. While Apple-exclusive features like iMessage or Apple Pay might lock users into the iOS ecosystem elsewhere, one app alone serves both purposes in in China: WeChat. The pervasive chat app is the same whether you’re using an iPhone or Android phone.

The iPhone 11’s cheaper price appeals especially to fans who don’t have the money to buy Apple’s high-end flagships, according to IDC analyst Wang Xi.

“Apple still has a huge brand appeal in China,” he said. As long as these users can get their hands on a new iPhone at a lower price, issues like the lack of 5G becomes far less of an issue.

Chinese social media users seem to agree.

“Why the heck would we wait for 5G,” wrote one Weibo user in a popular comment. “It won’t be coming to third- and fourth-tier cities like ours in the next two years.”

That hasn’t stopped Chinese phone makers from rolling out more 5G offerings this month. Vivo just unveiled a 5G version of its new flagship, the NEX 3, and Xiaomi has already teased two 5G models for next week.

But all eyes are on Huawei, which is set to reveal its new Mate 30 line in Munich on Thursday, including a 5G-equipped variant. The phones are expected to be the first batch of Huawei flagships without Google services preinstalled.