* Online sellers taking orders for unreleased phone
* Alibaba sellers were right before on iPad cases
* Secretive Apple remains mum on iPhone 5 specs
By Melanie Lee
SHANGHAI, July 12 (Reuters) - Apple Inc's next-generation iPhone has not even been released yet, but opportunistic sellers on China's largest e-commerce platform, Taobao, are already accepting pre-orders, complete with mock-up pictures and purported technical specifications.
The hotly anticipated iPhone 5 is widely expected to be released sometime between August and October this year, although Apple itself has been tight-lipped about it. Sources have said the iPhone 5 would have a bigger screen than previous models, while Taiwanese media reported the phone's voice recognition software, Siri, would have more powerful functions.
Sellers on Taobao, a unit of Alibaba Group, 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).
Taobao sellers that Reuters spoke with said 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.
The sellers could not promise a specific delivery time.
The pre-order activity comes despite the mystery around the iPhone 5 and highlights the intense demand for new Apple products in China.
Apple has not confirmed the specifications, details or price of the latest iPhone, but the Internet rumour mill has been in overdrive, churning out photo renderings and pictures of purported iPhone 5 engineering samples and speculating endlessly on its technical specifications and functions.
Apple did not respond to requests for comment.
"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.
On Alibaba.com, the business-to-consumer platform of Alibaba Group, hard-shell cases and soft silicone cases for the iPhone 5 were peddled by sellers, most located in southern China. The majority of cases indicate an elongated iPhone 5 with some showing an earphone jack located at the bottom. One verified Alibaba.com seller Reuters spoke to "guaranteed" the cases were accurate, saying the company's boss received the dimensions from "certain channels".
Although it is hard to know whether the cases on Alibaba.com reflect the real deal, the sellers have been right before. In early 2011, cases for the yet-to-be-launch iPad 2 appeared on Alibaba.com, showing accurately the placement for a rear-facing camera.
Demand for Apple products in China is so high that many consumers buy smuggled goods in order get them before the official China release. Earlier this year scalpers queued overnight outside a Beijing store for the latest version of the iPhone 4, only to pelt the store with eggs after Apple decided against selling the phone there because of security concerns.
"It's not so easy to bring the phones from overseas, there's a limit to how many you can carry in...If we could bring in a few thousand that will be great!," said Xiaoyu.
One enterprising seller posted a list of 17 possible new iPhone 5 features and gave a percentage probability that they would be included in the new device. For example, a biometric capability has a 20 percent chance of being a feature on the iPhone 5, according to the seller.
Apple, which recently settled an iPad trademark lawsuit with a Shenzhen technology firm, said on Tuesday it would release its latest iPad in China on July 20.
Apple has five stores in mainland China and plans to open flagship stores in the major Chinese cities of Chengdu and Shenzhen, according to government officials.
The iPad Mini Is Definitely Coming This Year, Says Bloomberg
We've been talking about the iPad Mini -- a smaller, cheaper version of the iPad, with a display just slightly larger than the Kindle Fire -- <a href="http://www.bgr.com/2011/10/12/apple-may-launch-ipad-mini-in-early-2012-to-fend-off-kindle-fire/" target="_hplink">for almost ten months</a>, or about as long as the runtime of the movie <em>Prometheus</em>. What started as an easily-dismissed rumor <a href="http://www.bgr.com/2011/10/12/apple-may-launch-ipad-mini-in-early-2012-to-fend-off-kindle-fire/" target="_hplink">from a hit-or-miss Wall Street analyst</a> now appears to be an all-but-certain future Apple product, as <strike>flashy teen magazine</strike> reputable business news site <em>Bloomberg</em> <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-07-03/here-comes-nexus-7-nightmare-the-ipad-mini.html" target="_hplink">published a report claiming</a> that we'll be seeing a smaller, cheaper version of the iPad -- sound familiar? -- as soon as this October. The <em>Bloomberg</em> article <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-07-03/here-comes-nexus-7-nightmare-the-ipad-mini.html" target="_hplink">claims that</a> the iPad Mini will have a non-Retina display between 7 and 8-inches, <a href="http://www.slashgear.com/7-85-inch-ipad-mini-on-apple-testbench-tips-insider-05221647/" target="_hplink">matching the 7.85-inch screen size</a> most analysts and reports from the supply chain have predicted. The iPad Mini would indeed be a "nightmare" for the Kindle Fire and the Google Nexus 7, both of which are prone to horrifying visions while they sleep, and both of which see much of their appeal over the iPad in their comparatively low prices. The iPad Mini would especially be a nightmare for the Fire and the yet-to-be-released Nexus 7 if its price were as low as, say, $250 to $300. Which -- wouldn't you know it! -- is exactly how much another news site this week claims the iPad Mini will cost...
An 8GB iPad Mini Will Cost $250-$300, Says 'Anonymous Source'
Chinese-language tech news site and car insurance management portal MyDrivers.com <a href="http://translate.google.com/translate?sl=auto&tl=en&js=n&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&layout=2&eotf=1&u=http%3A%2F%2Fnews.mydrivers.com%2F1%2F233%2F233054.htm" target="_hplink">has a report up</a> from an "anonymous source" who claims knowledge of the upcoming iPad Mini. The source says that the smaller iPad will feature a 7.85-inch screen, will have the thickness of the iPad 2, and will cost between $250 and $300 for an 8GB model. We're not sure how trustworthy MyDrivers.com is, but $250-$300 seems a safe bet for the price, anyway, and <a href="http://www.macrumors.com/2012/04/16/apple-reportedly-looking-to-launch-ipad-mini-priced-at-249-299-in-q3/" target="_hplink">it's the range that we've heard before</a>. If Apple truly wants to challenge the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire -- both of which cost $199 -- it needs something cheaper than its lowest offering ($399 for a new iPad 2). A sub-$300 7-inch iPad would do a lot to pressure cost-conscious potential tablet buyers into considering Apple. Still don't believe that an iPad Mini is coming out? Well, we've got <em>Tiger Beat</em>-nemesis/business reporting site Bloomberg on-board, as well as a bunch of confident Wall Street analysts, as well as a requisite sketchy Asian supply chain rumor. All that's left is for the <em>Wall Street Journal</em> to confirm that they're hearing something, too, and -- wait, what's that? What's that you say?
Wall Street Journal Also Hears That An iPad Mini Is Definitely Coming
And, there you have it. The <em>Wall Street Journal</em> -- the publication with the <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/erik-wemple/post/apple-and-the-new-york-times-not-meshing/2012/02/16/gIQAzmXPIR_blog.html" target="_hplink">best access to the notoriously tight-lipped Apple Inc.</a> -- <a href="http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304141204577506471913819412.html" target="_hplink">reports that a smaller iPad</a> will be mass produced in September, which (probably) means an October debut. The <em>WSJ</em> <a href="http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304141204577506471913819412.html" target="_hplink">has similar details</a> as Bloomberg -- smaller screen size measuring under eight inches; a lower price to compete with the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire; a probable launch before the end of 2012 -- but also stops short of offering a firm release date or price. From covering this story for six months, it seems likely (to me) that, unless absolutely everybody has it wrong: 1) The smaller iPad will be out before Christmas, probably in October. 2) It will cost less than $300. 3) It will probably have a better name than "iPad Mini," which makes it sound like a Halloween candy bar. 4) Its display will be less than eight inches but greater than seven inches. 5) It will sell like crazy no matter what they call it. As October nears, we'll likely be hearing more about this smaller iPad, especially now that reputable heavyweights <em>Bloomberg</em> and the <em>Wall Street Journal</em> are confirming its existence. Stay tuned as the summer progresses. And now let us turn to perhaps the one Apple device that has been rumored for EVEN LONGER than the iPad Mini: The iPhone 5.
'iPhone 5' To Feature Quad-Core Processor?
We have but one next-gen iPhone rumor for you this week -- I know, shed a tear -- as the iPhone 5 continues its Ripken-esque appearance streak in <strong>This Week In Apple Rumors</strong>. We're going on a year and a half now, people. The latest iPhone 5 rumor comes out of the Asian supply chain, <a href="http://www.digitimes.com/news/a20120705PD206.html?mod=3&q=APPLE" target="_hplink">via Digitimes</a>, and claims that the next iPhone could come equipped with a quad-core processor, for faster performance and multitasking. The current processor in the iPhone 4S is dual-core. Many of the latest flagship Android smartphones, including the HTC One X and the Samsung Galaxy S III, ship with quad-core processors --though not in the United States, due to problems integrating the quad-core processor with the 4G LTE chip. Recently, however, the <a href="http://techcrunch.com/2012/07/05/samsungs-new-galaxy-s-iii-combines-lte-and-quad-core-processor/" target="_hplink">first smartphones with quad-core processors and LTE chips were released</a>; given that the next iPhone is heavily expected to be a 4G LTE capable, that's good news for this rumor, however thinly-sourced it may be. (We're still expecting the next iPhone -- with a 4.0-inch screen, 4G LTE, and NFC -- to drop in late September or early October (perhaps alongside an iPad Mini!)). Speaking of "new Apple products rumored to be released in October"...
New iMac -- With Retina Display? -- Could Also Be Released In October
The ever-replenishing font of sketchy Apple rumors that is Taiwanese trade paper Digitimes is at it again, <a href="http://www.digitimes.com/news/a20120702PD218.html" target="_hplink">this time with a report that</a> Apple will refresh its all-in-one iMac line this October. <a href="http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/12/07/04/supply_of_apples_27_imac_drying_up_as_ivy_bridge_upgrade_awaits.html" target="_hplink">Next-generation Intel Ivy Bridge chips are expected</a>, and a Retina display <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/technology/2012/05/thinner-apple-macbook-pro-with-retina-display-coming/" target="_hplink">MIGHT be on the menu</a>; predictions are mixed, with most expecting the October refresh to be a simple internal boost, and for a wholesale redesign of the iMac, with Retina display, to arrive in 2013. BUT... Now seems like a good time to not buy an iMac: <a href="http://www.macrumors.com/2012/07/03/more-claims-of-october-launch-for-updated-imac-models/" target="_hplink">MacRumors notes that</a> it's been about 430 days since the last time the iMac line was refreshed. Seems likely that one is coming this year; and with Apple seemingly set for a busy October, it might be wise to wait and see if the iMac will be included.
iPad 4 -- Or Whatever It's Called -- Coming In December?
Though we have no idea what to call it, the next-generation iPad -- what we might have called the iPad 4, had the numerical nomenclature been kept in place -- is rumored to be releasing in December. Once again <a href="http://www.digitimes.com/news/a20120704PD220.html" target="_hplink">via the busy beavers at Digitimes</a>, the next iPad will apparently have a larger camera hole for even better pictures that are totally awkward to take, a thinner frame, and a better battery that doesn't make the device hot to the touch (which was briefly a scandal, remember?) <a href="http://www.digitimes.com/news/a20120704PD220.html" target="_hplink">Digitimes claims Apple</a> is aiming for a late 2012 launch, though that seems unlikely: The iPad <strike>3</strike> was just released in March, and Apple almost never releases a new product less than a year before the old one came out. But then again, I'm often wrong, as my girlfriend and my mother and pretty much all of my friends like to tell me, so we could be seeing an iPad <strike>4</strike> in time for Christmas. That's all for <strong>This Week In Apple Rumors</strong>. You can get your fix of Apple rumors right here every week; or, if you can't wait seven days, you can get up-to-the-minute Apple rumors by <a href="https://twitter.com/#!/gilbertjasono" target="_hplink">following me on Twitter right here</a>. Arrivederci, everyone!