Chinese economic growth may be slowing, but its iPhone 5 rumour industry is soaring.
This week, opportunistic Chinese sellers start taking orders for iPhone 5. Wondrous metal engineering samples, direct from China, "confirm" long-rumored phone details. A patent grant sparks a new wave of iOSphere cud-chewing about NFC and mobile payments. And The Announcement is just 25 days away.
You read it here second.
"And while Apple has yet to confirm the device's features or the device itself, the rumors have painted a picture of what Apple might announce this fall." -- Shawn Ingram, GottaBeMobile.com, on the artistic essence of iPhone rumoring
iPhone 5 already on sale in China
Reuters started this one, with a story about how "opportunistic sellers on China's largest e-commerce platform, Taobao, are already accepting pre-orders [for iPhone 5] complete with mock-up pictures and purported technical specifications."
LAST WEEK: iPhone 5 rumor rollup for week ending July 6
"Opportunistic" makes these guys sound like gritty, tough, hard-scrabble entrepreneurs. Calling them "exploitive grifters" or "predatory con men" doesn't have quite the same ring to it.
Taobao is a division of Alibaba Group, a leading Web property in China. Taobao itself is not "offering" the iPhone, but the online sellers that use the site's e-commerce services are.
Reuters says these sellers "are accepting orders for the iPhone 5, in some cases asking for a deposit of 1,000 yuan ($160) for the new phone. One seller, 'Dahai99888,' who started accepting pre-orders this week, is asking for full payment upfront, at a cool 6,999 yuan ($1,100)."
Several of the sellers talked to Reuters: "They planned to buy the iPhone 5 in Hong Kong or the United States and then bring it to mainland China. Apple products are often available in Hong Kong before they are released on the mainland."
Rollup is pretty sure that for 6,999 yuan, a Chinese iPhanatic could travel to Hong Kong himself, stay at a quasi-luxurious hotel, stand in line for the phone to go on sale, buy it, return home, and still come out ahead.
And then Rollup's second favorite line in the whole story: "The sellers could not promise a specific delivery time."
And our No. 1 favorite line, a quote from one of these opportunistic sellers: "Demand is high. Yesterday someone just bought two phones. Altogether we have about two dozen orders," said one seller on Taobao who went by the nickname Xiaoyu.
In this fantasyland, "someone just bought two phones" doesn't mean what it means in normal life. In normal life, it means, "I paid for a product I found on Amazon and it arrived two days later via UPS." For the TaobaoLand buyers, it means, "I paid some guy who doesn't even use a real name more than double the expected price of a product that doesn't yet exist but which he promised that he'd buy for me in a foreign country when it's released and make sure I got it."
Yet for countless members of the iOSphere, this "news" is another sign of the imminent release of the Next iPhone.
"Don't get too excited but it looks like the Apple iPhone 5 (or is it iPhone 7*) release is closing in, as China's thriving gray market importers have begun offering the new phone for pre-release sale," writes a somewhat excited Jonny Evans at Computerworld's Apple Holic blog.
"Gray market" refers to usually legal but unofficial distribution of controlled or scarce goods, for example bypassing the official importer of a product and that importer's network of distributors. Which is a generous description of scams and frauds.
"Buying Apple devices unseen shows what kind of confidence consumers have in the products that Apple makes," commented Seth Weintraub, at 9to5Mac, apparently without even a trace of irony.
This would be a better rumor if we substituted, say Middle Earth, for the Middle Kingdom.
"Apple Inc.'s next-generation iPalantir has not even been released yet, but opportunistic sellers on Middle Earth's largest e-commerce platform, e-Silmarillion, are already accepting pre-orders, complete with mock-up pictures and purported technical specifications. Sellers are accepting orders for the iPalantir 5, in some cases asking for a deposit of 50 silver pennies for the new magical artifact. One seller, 'Sauron99888,' who started accepting pre-orders this week, is asking for full payment upfront, at a cool 500 gold coins. E-Silmarillioni sellers that Reuters spoke with said they planned to buy the iPalantir in Mordor or The Undying Lands and then bring it to the Shire. Apple declined to comment."
iPhone 5 features revealed by photos of "engineering sample" direct from China
Shawn Ingram at GottaBeMobile has photos of a block of metal machined to resemble an iPhone -- an "engineering sample."
The site's headline: "Exclusive: iPhone 5 Engineering Sample Photos Direct from China" (The best headline on this is at Product-Reviews.net, giving "biotech" new meaning: "iPhone 5 worker leaks metal block").
"A trusted source inside the Apple supply chain sent images of the metal iPhone 5 design sample," Ingram reveals. "The metal block shows the size of the iPhone 5, where the antenna and ports will be and other design aspects."
Not just a source. A Trusted Source. But who? It reminds Rollup of the closing moments of the movie "Raiders of the Lost Ark," when the FBI assures Professor Indiana Jones that "top men" were working on the Lost-but-now-found Ark. "Who?" Jones demands. "Top. Men," the agent replies stiffly.
GottaBeMobile's Top Man in China provided "exclusive photos of an iPhone 5 engineering sample straight from a factory in China." And what do these treasures reveal? They "show the new phone will be slightly taller, slightly thinner and about the same width," Ingram writes. And there are grainy gray photos to prove it.
These revelations -- that the next iPhone will be slightly taller and thinner and about the same width -- sound numbingly familiar. Apparently you don't need a Top Man in China to rumor about slightly taller and thinner and about the same width.
The rear-facing camera remains in the same place and apparently the same size; there's a rear-facing microphone "for video recording and noise reduction to improve call quality." There may be a back panel with two different materials, "possibly even Liquidmetal," Ingram speculates, without a shred of evidence to support it and plenty that contradicts it (not least the clear statement by one of Liquidmetal's inventors that it would be three to five years before the alloy could be used on a large scale).
Zach Epstein at Boy Genius Report is skeptical but not skeptical enough in his post on the meaning of the photos. "Images of what is claimed to be an 'iPhone 5 engineering sample' were published on Tuesday afternoon, adding support to earlier rumors that Apple is prepping a taller iPhone with a larger display for launch this fall," he wrote.
It's the second part of that sentence that makes it nonsensical -- the idea that a rumor is "supported," whatever that means, because a newer rumor says the same thing.
Two days after GottaBeMobile's exclusive rumor, a site called KitGuru posted what it called "exclusive photos" of, well, something. The website calls it both an "early iPhone5" and a "pre-release test sample."
No mention of any source, trusted or otherwise.
iPhone 5 will have near field communications (NFC) and the iTravel app
The iOSphere is agog again over the recycling of the longstanding rumor that the Next iPhone, for several years now, will have a short-range near-field communications (NFC) radio and a passel of apps to let you wave your phone and pay for stuff.
The agogness is due to the fact that the United States Patent and Trademark Office granted Apple a "major patent," according to PatentlyApple.com, "that relates to transportation check-in and, more particularly, to employing near field communication (NFC) for identification and ticketing by transportation providers."
Hallelujah. According to the iOSphere, this means that industries like airlines will soon be moving people as gently and swiftly and efficiently as Walt Disney World in Orlando.
"And if I'm reading this right, iOS devices could not only be used to check into flights, hotels, car rentals, cruises, trains, buses and so forth, but also to pay for these services," writes a bedazzled Christian Zibreg, at iDownloadBlog.
But Wired.com's Christina Bonnington sees a more sinister implication.
After helpfully noting that the patent is not for an app per se but for a "System and method for transportation check-in," and that iTravel itself simply "would perform a host of functions currently accomplished by multiple different apps," she moves on to the Really Big Picture.
"Unfortunately, a patent like this seems like less of a safeguard for protecting Apple-bred innovation, and more like another tool in the company's war against other smartphone makers -- namely, Android smartphone makers, which Steve Jobs famously said he would go 'thermonuclear war' on," she warns, darkly. "Apple's got this win, and a variety of other patents, under its belt, and all these intellectual property weapons can be used to dismantle Android's growing hold on the mobile space."
If you can't beat 'em, go thermonuclear on 'em.
And none of this, apart perhaps from the Bonnington Conspiracy Theory, is actually new. Patently Apple's latest post links to its previous iTravel post ... two years ago, which provided all the same details then when the patent application, originally filed in 2008, first came to light.
To their credit, several of these sites link to the recent story in The Wall Street Journal "Inside Apple's Go-Slow Approach to Mobile Payments," by Jessica Vascellaro, which shows Apple as quite content to hold back on mobile payments technology for now.
"Holding back in mobile payments was a deliberate strategy, the result of deep discussion last year," according to Vascellaro. "Some Apple engineers argued for a more-aggressive approach that would integrate payments more directly. But Apple executives chose the go-slow approach for now." She quotes Apple's worldwide marketing chief, Phil Schiller, who said in a recent interview that digital-wallet/mobile-payment services are "all fighting over their piece of the pie, and we aren't doing that."
iPhone 5 will be announced Tuesday, Aug. 7
Know Your Mobile's Paul Briden boldly and exclusively goes where no man has gone before, trusting in a "reliable industry source who wishes to remain anonymous."
This faithful source revealed to Know Your Mobile that "Apple's highly-anticipated and much-rumoured iPhone 5 will be launched via a keynote speech on August 7."
"The new date correlates with reports from earlier in the month the iPhone 5's release had been brought forward from October to August," Briden confides, though one wonders whether he's trying to reassure his readers or himself.
"At present there are no further details about specs, design or availability," Briden says, though of course there are endless rumors about all of these, including the date of the announcement.
"Make sure to check back with us on August 7 when we'll have live coverage of Apple's announcement," Briden concludes. Or when Know Your Mobile becomes the Harold Camping of the iOSphere.
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World. Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnwcoxnwwEmail: firstname.lastname@example.orgBlog RSS feed: http://www.networkworld.com/community/blog/2989/feed
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