Government-controlled media outlets in China yesterday speculated that the iPhone 6 will not be immediately sold there because Apple retaliated against carrier partners who leaked details of the new models before their Tuesday launch. See also: iPhone 6 review.
That was one reason publications such as People's Daily, the Communist Party's official organ, and the government's Xinhua News Agency put forward for the sudden change in the on-sale date for the new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus in the People's Republic of China (PRC).
Those same reports, as well as others, also said that the iPhone 6 had not yet been approved by the Ministry for Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), the agency that must green light smartphones before they can be sold in the PRC.
Searches on the MIIT's website for an iPhone 6 approval notice came up empty.
Much more provocative were the charges that the move was by initiated by Apple. People's Daily (Chinese language website), for example, claimed one possibility was that Apple was holding out because executives were angry that China's mobile carriers spilled some of the details about the then-unannounced iPhone 6, including pricing by China Unicom and China Mobile's posting of the handset's dimensions and Sept. 19 on-sale date.
Other reports, including one by Xinhua (Chinese language website), pitched in with another conspiratorial theory: The Chinese carriers' reductions in smartphone subsidies had upset Apple enough to cut off its nose to spite its face.
Apple unveiled the new iPhone 6 on Tuesday in the U.S. at a lavish one hour 45-min. event in Cupertino, Calif., where CEO Tim Cook introduced not only the two new models -- one with a 4.7-in. screen, the other of 5.5-in. -- but touted a new electronic payment system and the first new device under Cook's regime, the Apple Watch.
The new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus will go on sale Sept. 19 in the U.S., Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Puerto Rico, Singapore and the U.K. A second-wave list of markets -- confirmed by spot checks of Apple localized online stores -- including Italy, the Netherlands, Russia, Spain and Taiwan, will kick off sales Sept. 26.
Noticeably absent from the lists: China.
Although Apple traditionally introduced new iPhones in the PRC months after their appearance elsewhere, that changed last year when the American company added China to the first-wave list, selling the iPhone 5S and 5C there on the global opening day.
According to People's Daily, Xinhua and other domestic news organizations, the iPhone 6 was originally to launch Sept. 26, a week after the U.S. debut, with the date promoted on Apple China's website. That was later deleted. Currently, the company's site redirects all buying information about the iPhone 6 to a page that instead pushes last year's iPhone 5S and 5C.
The iPhone 6 page now only states that the on-sales date will be updated soon.
According to the New York Times (subscription required), the abrupt change caught both Apple China and the company's carrier partners -- China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom -- by surprise. An unnamed Apple executive told the newspaper that its stores were preparing for a Sept. 19 launch, while mobile carriers had already scheduled advertising and promotions for the new phones.
China is a crucial market for Apple, accounting for 16% of all revenues in the June quarter and posting year-over-year growth of 28%, the largest, by far, of any Apple sales region. (Apple lumps the PRC, Taiwan and Hong Kong into what it calls "Greater China.")
Even Xinhua acknowledged that the carrier leaks hypothesis was unlikely. The news agency instead assumed that the hold-up was due to MIIT approval. But even that explanation had a political element, as elsewhere local media claimed that MIIT's sluggishness may have been due to previous clashes with Apple, in particular the June broadcast by state-run television that the iPhone and iOS 7 was spying on users.
Apple quickly denied those allegations in a rebuttal on its China website.
On Thursday, Reuters said employees of China Mobile's Beijing office had claimed a company-wide memo went out today telling everyone that the iPhone 6 would not ship on the carrier until "the end of the year."
That might not be a bad thing, argued one U.S.-based analyst yesterday.
"I really do think that Apple wants to milk the iPhone 6 as much as it can," said Carolina Milanesi, chief of research and head of U.S. business for Kantar Worldpanel Comtech. She argued that it was to Apple's advantage to "spread out the revenue goodness" over several quarters, courtesy of the Apple Watch debut early next year and the Chinese New Year, a major shopping stretch in China in January.
If the iPhone 6 was not available until later this year, it would still allow carriers in China to create promotions around the iPhone 6 for that selling season.
Other stories that ran Wednesday in Chinese media seemed to assume that the iPhone would not be sold anytime soon in the PRC. For example, People's Daily (Chinese language website) posted a story about travel plans and costs for those who wanted to get an iPhone 6 immediately, with destination choices ranging from Hong Kong -- "the most convenient iPhone 6 procurement site" -- and Singapore to Australia or Japan.