Will The Gold iPhone Become China's 'Coal Boss' Device?

    Many Sina Weibo users are appalled by the possibility of a gold iPhone, believing it will only be popular among the nouveau riche—exactly the group Apple wants to target.
    Jing Daily
    Liz FloraAuthor
      Published   in Technology

    Since tech blog AllThingsD sparked a media frenzy when it reported on Monday with absolute certainty that Apple is going to be releasing a gold iPhone, there has been one country mentioned in practically every subsequent article covering the story: China.

    This is because, as the logic goes, an ostentatious color such as gold would only be popular in bling-obsessed emerging markets, and the color is particularly auspicious in Chinese culture. We obviously can't know for certain if the story is real until Apple releases the phone, but tech blogs are pretty convinced that AllThingsD knows what it’s talking about. They're also convinced that the phone is intended almost solely for Chinese consumers. According to the original article, “gold is becoming a more sought-after color option at the higher end of markets like China.” Meanwhile, Tim Bajarin, an analyst at Creative Strategies, told USA Today, "The market is driven by colors, and gold means prosperity.” ZDNet argues that in China, “the color gold has much more sway, culturally speaking.”

    If you log onto Sina Weibo and search users’ reactions to the same story, however, a dramatically different picture emerges. Rather than raving about the merits of gold, the majority of comments are pretty disparaging. The characters tu (土), which means “unsophisticated,” chou (丑), which means “ugly,” and su (俗), which means “vulgar” are repeatedly used to describe the possible new look. “Too tacky; black and white are better,” argues @吖湧湧湧. “Steve Jobs wouldn’t have dared to look at it,” was @我和小伙伴们都热呆了’s harsh assessment. One main reason for the opposition to the color is the idea that the phone looks too shanzhai (山寨), or knockoff-like. “I'd rather have black… gold feels fake,” says @黄锴Kevin. “I could see this being a black market product,” states @Yoly丹陽. User @Nouaaa believes that the phone is “tailor-made for China’s imitators.”

    Another substantial cause for detraction is the fact that the phone’s color seems far too gaudy, a sentiment which makes sense considering the fact that Chinese taste is becoming rapidly less bling-oriented. Over and over again, users state that the color is only meant for the baofahu (暴发户), or nouveau riche, a term they are not using in a positive sense. “It wouldn't be surprising if this color was used by the country bumpkin baofahu,” states @小希来了.

    “Gold doesn’t suit me, it suits the coal bosses,” says @我是跟你谈正事, referring to the group in China that above all else represents the spirit of tacky, nouveau riche ostentation. In the spirit of California gold speculators or Texas oil drillers, China’s “coal bosses” (mei laoban, 煤老板) embody what it means to get rich quick off natural resources in the country’s booming economy, as well as the pinnacle of crass taste that comes with "new money". Profiting off being in the right place at the right time in coal-rich Shanxi, many are uneducated to the point where some were not even able to finish elementary school, yet they have attained vast fortunes. Thus, they are thought of among urbanites as uncultured rural peasants who don’t know how to spend their newly-acquired wealth, and fervently buy the flashiest luxury goods they can get their hands on.

    While mostly educated, tech-savvy Weibo users are appalled at their gauche ways, the newly rich appear to be precisely the target Apple wants to hit, considering the company's place in the China market. As Gizmodo puts it, “while many urban Chinese consumers might—as we may here—see a gold iPhone as tacky or nouveau riche, those people already have iPhones.” As Simon Cousins of China-focused PR company Illuminant tells Gizmodo, “I would think that Apple's looking at first-time iPhone users... in rural or remote areas, in smaller cities."

    It seems as though Apple’s recent reports of dropping China revenues and the fact that it only has a grasp of 5 percent of the country’s smartphone market make the company believe it has nothing to lose by courting the next wave of wealthy buyers. However, if the gold color causes the iPhone to lose its cachet among current fans, they may be looking to other brands the next time they replace their phone. Many are worried that their own iPhones will lose their value. “If this is true, I will abandon iPhone,” @摇摇 huffed.

    While Apple fans are clearly unhappy with the possibility of a gold phone, the company's cult-like following ensures that it will always have some loyal believers no matter what. One idealistic user, @威博微搏, states, “To speak the truth, when I first saw the gold iPhone, my immediate reaction was, ‘This is too tacky for me.’ But after a few minutes, I calmed down a lot--every time Apple makes something, it always smashes people's existing notions and broadens the world's possibilities.”

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