China Ontrade, a wholesale parts distributor that ships pre-production parts from upcoming devices, has just posted a part it calls the “Apple iPhone 4 Generation Midboard.” While not particularly pretty to look at, or indicative of any exciting, new features for the upcoming model, the part is tantalizing because it represents the first piece of leaked, hard info potentially linked to the next-gen iPhone.
It’s even more exciting because China Ontrade has a history of being accurate with its early leaks. As Gizmodo points out, the site began selling spare LCDs and other parts for the 3GS a month before its official release, and the parts turned out to be accurate when the iPhone received its customary teardown examination following its launch in June of 2009.
But that was a difference of one month, not eight months, as would be the case with this new part if Apple (s aapl) sticks to its standard June release schedule for new iPhone models. To have production parts ready eight months before launch is just bad business, since it costs money to store them all. It could be a part from a pre-production testing model, but it doesn’t make sense that the factory would be building them in large enough quantities that they’d have lots of spares to sell through China Ontrade.
Gizmodo suggests an interesting alternate theory: What if a new iPhone is only around a month away? It seems far-fetched, but there is some solid reason to suspect it might be possible. First, the 3GS, while successful, represented only an incremental update. A true successor coming around half a year after its launch wouldn’t be out of line with the product life cycle of some of Apple’s other hardware.
Second, Android is gaining ground and becoming more popular with network operators, due largely to Google’s (s goog) less-than-free model for licensing its OS and applications. Further product line differentiation, and the availability of three distinct models of iPhone simultaneously, could help Apple block Google’s progress.
For now, I remain skeptical, but China Ontrade has promised to offer more parts for the upcoming fourth-generation iPhone for sale on its site in the near future, and shots of the device itself, too. The site also recently posted a part it claims is from Apple’s upcoming tablet, too, so it’s entirely possible that following that and the 3GS part reveal last summer, it experienced a heady spike in traffic and orders, and has thus learned, through positive reinforcement, that making claims about having hands-on access to parts from upcoming Apple devices is good for business.