Bangkok:The new iPhone is set to be a big hit in Asian countries where it goes on sale on Friday, but the sleek smartphone is already in high demand in black markets from Shanghai to Bangkok.
In Thailand, a Southeast Asian hub for pirated goods where Apple Inc’s iPhone is not officially for sale, dealers boast they only need a few weeks to smuggle in the trendy phones and “unlock” them for use on local mobile networks.
“I’m taking orders this weekend and you’ll get it by the end of July. We can sign a contract guaranteeing you will get it,” Toew, a phone dealer who is offering 8 gigabyte 3G iPhones for 29,000 baht ($860) on the Internet, told Reuters.
At Bangkok’s MBK centre -- a treasure trove of pirated DVDs, clothing and luxury goods -- many shops are advertising hacked iPhones with signs that read: “Good price, we unlock very fast”.
Internet proving to be effective medium to ‘trade’ iPhones
Trading iPhones via the Internet has become more popular in recent months, with prices for the current iPhone soaring 25-30% due to tight supply and rumours that the 3G iPhone cannot be hacked despite the claims of online shops.
An old iPhone with 8-gigabytes of memory now costs 22,000-24,500 baht, up from 16,500-18,500. A model with twice the memory fetches 25,000-28,000 baht, up around 5,000 baht from a few months ago.
New phone has more features: poll
A poll by a local website showed more than 77% of 2,000 respondents want to buy the new phone, which Apple says has faster Web links faster than the old version and supports third-party software like games.
“It’s fashion and technology that attract mobile users to the iPhone. They are using more data services to surf the Internet,” said Prattana Leelapanang, an executive at Thailand’s leading mobile operator, Advanced Info Service AIS estimates there are 140,000 users of the old iPhone in Thailand, where a 3G network is only in the testing stage for now.
Apple is rolling out the new iPhone in more than 20 countries -- including New Zealand, Japan and Hong Kong -- but AIS has not yet reached a deal for Thailand, Prattana said.
China may have hacked it
In Hong Kong, Hutchison Telecommunications has been flooded with online applications from eager buyers, but retailers in the rest of China -- where the iPhone is not officially offered -- are also gearing up to sell hacked phones.
Asked about claims that the new iPhones could not be hacked, he replied: “The Chinese are very quick at unlocking iPhones.They used to say that the PSP couldn’t be hacked as well, but we hacked it.”
Inside the bustling Cybermart are rows of stalls bearing neon signs with local and global brands. No iPhones were actually exhibited in displays, but when asked repeatedly, merchants would sometimes offer to bring out hacked handsets from the back.
Another shopkeeper said most customers prefer the unlocked versions, rather than Chinese copies, which she added were sometimes not of very good quality.