Adventures in (not) buying a (not) iPhone 4

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iPhone 4. It was right there. Gleaming, pristine, in its box. Almost begging me to buy it. Steve Jobs was even there, enticing me in to purchase. What more could I want?

Well, as it turns out, quite a bit. Most specifically, I'd like to be assured that the iPhone 4 I was looking at was actually genuine. I wasn't staring at this iPhone 4 in an actual Apple store — although there was a big storefront just a block away proclaiming itself to be an "Apple Shop". As far as I can tell, though, it was selling fashion clothing, not fashionable computers. 

One interesting side-benefit of my recent trip though Hong Kong was the chance at night to check out Hong Kong's high tech markets. They're certainly bright and shiny enough, with huge neon advertisements at every conceivable viewing angle. Even looking down is no escape, as they're reflected in unusual ways in the puddles beneath your feet. It's rather like being trapped inside a massive flashing banner advertisement with no particular way out.

Red iPhone 4 SignThe Apple Shop down the road might just be a fashion house, but one store did promise iPhone 4. Not in a subtle way — with a bright red(incorrectly capitalised) "Apple iPhone 4" street sign no less, and Steve Jobs as the store greeter. OK, you might not believe me on that one, but he was there, greeting me as I came in the front door.

At least, I think he was greeting me. It was a little hard to tell, what with the photocopied screen grab of his iPhone 4 keynote being semi-obscured by Cantonese. I think it said "Come in!" or perhaps "Magical And Revolutionary", but it equally could have said "Only the finest fakes produced here" or for that matter "Ask about our complimentary massage special on level one" for all I know. It's that kind of district, after all, where "massage" parlours share level space with mobile phone shops and a curious shop that only sells Monchichi merchandise. For whatever reason, that's the most popular shop on the block at  11pm on a Tuesday night. I'm not going to judge that, or even pretend to understand it.

Steve Jobs iphone sign

There are a number of more obvious fakes around me, including Telstra-branded HTC Desires and an awful lot of 2G iPhones. That's apparently because the vast majority of the fake phones are GSM-only, and if you're going to trick someone, you're probably better off not trying to convince them that they're 3G when they're not. The fact that, in a line of three of them, the Apple printing on the back is in different positions on every single phone is something of a giveaway, however.

Fake iPhone 4Needless to say, I didn't bite on this particular Apple, if only because of the quoted price. The asking rate for an it's-almost-certainly-fake-iPhone 4 in Hong Kong last week was a hefty $16,800. That might put local iPhone pricing into sharp perspective, were it not for the fact that those were Hong Kong dollars. Converted to Australian currency, that's around $2500. Something tells me there's a lot of bartering room there, but that's still a shocking premium even for a genuine smartphone. For a fake, it's about $2450 more than I'd like to pay.

It strikes me that it actually must be tough to sell a genuine iPhone around here. Apparently one member of the group of journalists I'm travelling with did buy an iPhone 4, probably not from this store. I didn't, although there's a perverse part of me that could have purchased a sufficiently cheap fake, if only to compare to the genuine thing once Apple releases it locally.

The fact that we don't have local pricing or even a confirmed release date in Australia is something of a worry for those keen on the iPhone 4. I'm still somewhat undecided, with a perfectly functional 3GS sitting next to me as I type.

What's clear though, is that both fakes and real iPhone 4 models are available internationally, and perhaps not in quite as much of a shortage as one might expect. As we all wait, the hype is likely to rise and those who want a phone may be tempted to purchase one from overseas. Apart from the obvious risk of simply being posted a brick in the mail (or nothing at all) the prevalence of obvious fakes in Hong Kong certainly means that there will be fakes on sale at tempting prices — and super-inflated ones if my experience is anything to go by.

I'm certainly going to wait for the official release. Not because I want to "toe the party line", but more simply to ensure that I get something that actually works the way I'd expect it to.

(Editor's note: many thanks to the delivery guy from North Ryde Chinese Kitchen for the translations. I recommend the satay beef 02 9878 1466 — MJCP)

What do you think? Are you excited enough about iPhone 4 to be willing to import or buy yourself overseas?

gt;Discuss it with me at MacTheForum!