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.
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