(Bloomberg) -- Chinese customers flocked to Apple stores to buy the latest iPhone 15 despite government restrictions and local competition, an encouraging sign for the world’s most valuable company in its largest overseas market. 

Hundreds of people lined up at an outlet in the Wangfujing neighborhood of Beijing, waiting for salespeople as scalpers hovered nearby. In Shanghai too, crowds packed Apple Inc.’s flagship store on East Nanjing Road.

In the Beijing store, a 20-year-old buyer surnamed Liu said he traded in an older iPhone for the iPhone 15 Pro because he wanted better cameras. The improved processor would also make it more potent for gaming. “I prefer a device with best performance,” he said.

The iPhone 15 release is a key test for Apple of whether refreshed specs and features can help the company return to growth, and China, which accounts for about a fifth of Apple sales, will be of particular interest. The Communist Party is expanding a ban on iPhone use in certain agencies and state-owned enterprises and rival Huawei Technologies Co. just introduced its highly touted Mate 60 Pro.

There appeared to be fewer scalpers outside of the Wangfujing store compared to previous Apple releases. One scalper asked for an additional 1,000 yuan ($137) from a potential customer who wanted an iPhone 15 Pro.

Premiums asked by other scalpers were similarly modest. Another, selling an iPhone 15 Pro Max with 1 terabyte of storage, asked for an extra 800 yuan. The iPhone 15 Pro with 512 gigabytes ran only 400 yuan to 500 yuan extra.

Another scalper approached a buyer just stepping out of the store, but when he learned the buyer had a Pro Max in natural titanium, he backed off. He said the color isn’t popular. 

“It’s pretty strange the new color doesn’t sell today,” said the scalper in his early 20s. The man said he only sold one device in the first two hours of the release.

In Shanghai, the scalpers were making modest profits too. The iPhone 15 Pro Max in titanium or white runs about 800 yuan over Apple’s retail price, one scalper said. There’s no immediate resale market for the blue iPhone though, according to the social media site Xiaohongshu.

A 37-year-old man surnamed Wang just got his iPhone 15 Pro Max. When asked whether he considered buying the new Huawei phone, he said he’s already got a Mate 60 Pro too. He said the Huawei phone is for daily use and he uses the iPhone to play games and take photos or videos. The iPhone performs better in games with its faster chip, he said.

--With assistance from Kelly Li.

©2023 Bloomberg L.P.