Apple’s iPad mini lived up to its name today in China, drawing a smaller crowd than last year’s riotous introduction of the iPhone 4S. Indeed, one observer described the Friday reception by mainland China tech fans as “nearly nonexistent”. Those consumers who did go to Apple locations, such as the the company’s Beijing store, came away not with the 7.9-inch mini, but with the larger iPad 4, instead. As opposed to January’s mobs that rioted, forcing Apple to temporarily halt sales of the 4S, no mobs appeared for the mini…

The new reservation-only system requires customers to first reserve the iPad mini online before picking one up at a store on mainland China.

IDG interviewed customers who didn’t know about the extra step, coming away with the iPad 4. Others who really wanted the mini were able to side-step the reservations by going to Hong Kong, where iPad mini sales began in November.

Despite the low turn-out in central China, local analysts say Apple remains the top brand for high-end tablets. Another test of China’s demand for all things Apple comes next week, when the iPhone 5 finally goes on sale there.

It should have come as little surprise that the iPad mini would not receive the attention in China equal to an iPhone.

Unlike more mature markets for Apple, China is just now transitioning from simple ‘feature phones’ to smartphones. Also, an iPhone is more ubiquitous, receiving almost continuous usage throughout the day. Then there is the difference between cultures.

In the West, everything new is seen as better.

Can Apple expect its iPad mini in China to receive the same level of consumer enthusiasm as the iPhone?

Or did Apple just shoot itself in the foot by imposing a reservation-first system, placing an extra obstacle in the path of sales?