Angry customers threw eggs at Apple's flagship Beijing store after its opening for the Chinese launch of the iPhone 4S was cancelled due to concerns over the size of the crowd.
Apple reacted to the scuffle by postponing iPhone 4S sales in its mainland China stores to protect the safety of customers and employees. It said the phone will still be sold online and through its local carrier.
Customers including migrant workers hired by touts in teams of 20 to 30 to buy iPhones for resale at a mark-up to Chinese gadget fans waited overnight in freezing weather at the Apple store in Beijing's eastern Sanlitun district.
The crowd erupted after the store failed to open on schedule at 7am. Some threw eggs and shouted at employees through the windows.
A person with a megaphone announced the sale was cancelled. Police ordered the crowd to leave and sealed off the area with yellow tape. Employees posted a sign saying the iPhone 4S was out of stock.
"We were unable to open our store at Sanlitun due to the large crowd and, to ensure the safety of our customers and employees, iPhone will not be available in our retail stores in Beijing and Shanghai for the time being," said Apple spokeswoman Carolyn Wu.
Other Apple stores in China have opened and Ms Wu said the iPhone 4S quickly sold out.
She said the phone will still be sold in China through Apple's online store, its local carrier China Unicom and retailers which are authorised resellers.
Ms Wu declined to comment on what Apple might know about touts buying iPhones for resale.
China is Apple's fastest-growing market and "an area of enormous opportunity", chief executive Tim Cook said in October. He said quarterly sales were up nearly four times over a year earlier and accounted for one-sixth of Apple's global sales.