I can confirm that the iPhone 6 is real, and it looks like the photos you may have seen leaked on the internet. You see, I have now held one in my hand. It felt good. It felt right and made the iPhone 5s seem too small. It was surprisingly light…I had expected something heavier.
How did this happen? Well, it was in stock in a store an Thailand. It’s an interesting story.
Thailand is often reported to be a place where you can buy anything. I remember seeing and handling an iPhone 4 several months before it was announced. I didn’t think it was real, because it was so different in design from the iPhone 3. But it turned out to be the real deal.
In Bangkok there are many malls, each filled with hundreds of phone store booths. Some booths will fix your phone, some take trade-ins, some sell new, and some sell stolen. Need a SIM card for India? You can buy one at a Thailand phone store.
I was passing a shop and there in the display cabinet I saw a box labeled “iPhone 6.” I stopped to look and the shopkeeper, a young Indian man, asked if I was interested. “Tao Rai” (How much?) I replied. He replied “haa phan baht”, or 5,000 Baht (about $160.) But he added: it’s not the best copy. I asked if I could look at it.
He handed me the phone. It looked just exactly like the few “scoop” shots I had seen in newsletters. Exactly. And, it worked.
“Why isn’t it a good copy?” I asked. He replied, “I have a better copy that is closer to the real one.” I asked how much it was. “Hok” (6) he replied, meaning 6,000 Baht. Want to see? “Of course” I said. “Why is it closer?” He pointed out the Truetone flash, the camera, the TouchID, and the display.
Both copies had the Apple logo on them, but in Thailand that doesn’t mean anything. But the better copy felt like something Apple would make.
The shopkeeper explained that the cheap copy ran Android with an IOS 8 skin on it. The better copy had the guts of an iPhone 5s inside the case and ran IOS 8 (Beta.) It was convincing and for $180 seemed like a genuine value. It was cheap because the 5s PC boards were “recycled.”
But how did he know it was closer to the real iPhone 6. I inquired further. He moved closer to me and whispered: “I have a real one.” My breath drew in, and I didn’t know what to say. He added: “It’s from the fourth shift.”
The expression “The fourth shift” means it was made on the real factory and isn’t a copy. It’s tantamount to falling off the back of a truck. There are three shifts in a normal day, and the fourth shift symbolizes stuff made at the factory by ghosts. Real stuff; not copies.
Some manufacturers authorize fourth shift products because they want to have their products distributed in third world countries, and so they would rather make the items at a lower profit and have them be quality than allow cheap knockoffs flood the market. So companies regularly “leak” the real deal into the supply channel while claiming they are fakes. Apple does not do this.
He cautiously asked me: Want to buy it? “How much?” I asked. He evaded the question and said: It’s activated. It can access the App Store. It’s running IOS 8. “Can I see it?” I asked. He answered my earlier question: “Lakh Baht.” This was a curious answer because Lakh isn’t a Thai word, it is indian for 100,000. Baht is the Thai currency. He was asking 100,000 Baht (US$3,300). “Can I see it?” I asked again. And then I asked: “You will discount that, right?”
At the talk of a discount he knew the game was on and I was interested and he instructed an assistant: “Get it.” The assistant headed off to whatever mysterious place assistants always go to get pirated DVDs and unreleased iPhone 6s.
A short while later he held another iPhone 6 that looked remarkably like the copies I had just seen. Except it looked exactly like an Apple product. It was perfect. He carefully showed me, and unlocked the display, and scrolled, and went to the About screen. “Can I touch it?” I asked. Only for a moment, he replied, unless you are going to buy it. I don’t want it handled. It has to be perfect.
“Sell it for 30,000 Baht?” I asked. It was a lowball price of about US$1,000. No, he said. Lakh Baht. I excused myself so I could go and call headquarters to get authorization.
Half an hour later I came back to the store, sad faced. “I can’t buy it if it is real. Headquarters says that I can’t import a real item to the US if it was made on the fourth shift. Customs regulations. Please tell me it’s a fake.” I pleaded with him.
“No sir, I cannot. It is real. It is made by Apple. It came from China. Those over there are copies, but this one is not a copy, it is real! It is what Apple will announce on September 9! I promise!” he protested.
“Then, I will buy the fake copy please.” I responded as he started to look genuinely sad. He pleaded to me that the real iPhone 6 was genuine and the copies only looked like the iPhone 6. Again I repeated: “I will buy the knockoff copy for Haa Phan Baht.”
He would not allow me take photos of it. He gave the real iPhone 6 back to his assistant and with a flip of his head indicated it was to be put back in its safe place.
He turned to me and then asked if I would like a case to go with the knockoff copy I was about to purchase. Then, he asked me: “But sir, I must ask you why you did not purchase the real one? You didn’t negotiate price with me. Why?”
“You see, I can legally bring a knockoff fake iPhone back into the United States. I cannot bring a fourth shift iPhone 6 back into the US. That’s what my headquarters tells me.”
He looked confused and asked: You mean you cannot bring a real iPhone 6 back into the US but the law lets you bring a fake copy back??!
“Yes. That is the law.”(*)
His reply was bewildered: “Sometimes I don’t understand America.” He wrapped up my purchase.
As he finished the transaction I asked what the story was on the 5.5” iPhone. Did he have any? He replied that he already had cases for them but he hadn’t seen any copies nor any of the real ones. He also wasn’t getting in any parts like he was for the 4.7” ones, so he thought that production wasn’t very far along. His thinking was that Apple was late in making the decision to make them because Americans don’t like big phones and Apple only authorized them when they realized how important the larger size would be to the Asian marketplace.
As I left he said: Here is a case for the 5.5” iPhone as a gift, I have many of them. Come back when you are ready to purchase one. I’ll have them before you can buy them in the US. He smiled and said: And maybe we can call it a copy.
*** FOOTNOTE ***
Yes, it is true that it is perfectly legal to bring in an imitation, knock-off, fake iPhone but not a real one from the fourth shift. If this sounds nonsensical to you then all I can say is that most of the Customs and Immigration laws are nonsensical to the point of absurdity. For you skeptics, check out the rules at Customs and Boarder Patrol website.
Got asked where in the rules it states it is illegal to import an authentic product.
Importation of stolen property is illegal, always.
There is a reasonable presumption that the real iPhone 6 is stolen since Apple isn’t selling them yet.
While one could argue that Apple is selling them as fourth shift products, I don’t expect such am argument would pass the “sniff test.”