Gray market iPhone 6 prices plunge in China

Meanwhile, customs authorities have seized hundreds of the new smartphones

iphone 6 seized in china
REUTERS/China Daily

Prices of gray market iPhones have fallen in China, according to a report by the Communist Party's official house organ today.

As of Tuesday, prices of the iPhone 6 in the People's Republic of China (PRC) were down as low as 7,200 yuan ($1,172 at today's exchange rate) for a 16GB model, the People's Daily reported (Chinese language version).

Meanwhile, the lowest price of a 16GB iPhone 6 Plus -- the larger smartphone that boasts a 5.5-in. display -- was 11,000 yuan ($1,791).

Just last week, the state-controlled Xinhua News Agency cited iPhone 6 prices starting at 13,000 yuan ($2,117 at the time) and iPhone 6 Plus prices as high as 20,000 yuan ($3,257) for "pre-orders" placed with sellers who expected to get their hands on the new devices almost as soon as they went on sale outside the PRC.

The People's Daily today said other quotes gathered by reporters showed that Monday's prices were between 7% and 17% lower than just days prior.

Prices fluctuate quickly on the gray market and are closely tied to not just supply and demand, but timing, sellers told the People's Daily.

Opening prices are naturally highest, since the market will bear extraordinary prices when those who demand to be first are willing to pay whatever it takes. As time passes, even if only a few days, that demand diminishes as others -- with money, but not thousands to spend on a phone -- wonder whether it's smarter to simply wait for the iPhone to reach the PRC.

In fact, news from China via Reuters earlier today hinted that the iPhone approval may be imminent. According to Reuters, Miao Wei, the head of China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), said that Apple was on the last leg of approval.

"The iPhone 6 has entered the final stage of the approval process, now it's just a matter of time," Miao told Tencent in an exclusive interview, said Reuters.

Last week, Xinhua contended that the iPhone 6 had received two of the three licenses needed in China, and was awaiting network access approval.

The PRC was not among the first or second wave of markets for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, a change from last year and a major reason for the record prices for smuggled smartphones.

Those smugglers have been busy, as have Chinese authorities, by other accounts in local media. Customs officials in Shenzhen -- the massive city just north of Hong Kong -- have seized hundreds of iPhone 6 and 6 Plus smartphones (Chinese language website) in the last three days as people have tried to sneak them into the country in automobile armrests, or in boxes of tea, coffee or snack cakes.

Hong Kong is the nearest market where the iPhone 6 has officially debuted, although sellers quoted by the People's Daily claimed that they were also obtaining devices from elsewhere, including Australia and the U.S.

Some of those iPhones that originated in the U.S. may have come from the enormous lines in New York City that videographer Casey Neistat documented on Friday.

In the six-minute video, Neistat followed some of those waiting in the lines who bought multiple iPhones with cash, then within minutes handed them over to others outside the stores.

Many of those whom Neistat spoke to were ethnic Chinese -- he had a translator with him -- but almost all either declined to speak on camera or claimed that they were buying it for themselves or a loved one.

The outside-the-store buyers carried sacks of iPhones, implying that the devices were destined for countries like the PRC, where the new models were unavailable.

Such practices are not new: In years past, when a new iPhone reached China only months after being sold elsewhere, buyers have regularly lined up, bought the maximum number of iPhones allowed per customer, paid in cash, and then resold them immediately afterwards.

seized iphones in china REUTERS/Bobby Yip

Apple's iPhone 6 models on display during a news conference by Customs and Excise Department and the police in Hong Kong on Sept. 21. Hong Kong officials on Saturday foiled a smuggling case involving a speedboat carrying 138 iPhone 6 smartphones, along with hard disks and RAM, from Hong Kong to mainland China.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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