Mysterious Apple Product Arrives in North America. Could it be the iPhone?

May 23, 2008

Since mid-March, Apple Inc. and its logistics partners have imported 188 ocean containers of a product type never before declared on its shipping manifests.

With iPhones currently out of stock at many Apple stores, including its flagship outlets in New York City, rumors abound that the company is winnowing stocks in preparation for a new 3G version of the phone.

Last month Citi analysts Richard Gardner and Yeechang Lee predicted that Apple would announce the new 3G iPhone at its June 9th World Developers Conference in San Francisco.Meanwhile, Dvice.com reports that AT&T has told its employees that they cannot take vacation time from June 15 to July 12 to enable full staffing for an “exciting Summer Promotional Launch.”

Now data from U.S. customs records seem to confirm this prediction, according to ImportGenius.com. By analyzing thousands of U.S. customs records for Apple Computer, employees of the search engine for container shipment data identified a major spike in imports generated by a new product type.

“They have never before reported this product on their customs declarations,” says Ryan Petersen of ImportGenius.com. “The fact that they are importing millions of units, combined with dwindling stocks of the first generation of iPhones, clearly supports the Citi analysts predictions.”

Two of Apple’s long-time manufacturing partners for desktop computers —Hon Hai Precision Corp. and Quanta Computer—have been rumored to be working on the newest generation of the popular cell phone.

On March 19 Quanta delivered 20 ocean containers of merchandise, described on the Bills of Lading as “electric computers,” to Apple, Inc. Neither Apple, Quanta, nor any other company has ever used this product description for any shipments to the U.S.

The advanced features of the iPhone make it perfectly legitimate for Apple to declare the products as computers, rather than telephones. By doing this, the company may hope to avoid the attention that a massive influx of phones may bring about, while simultaneously maintaining secrecy as to the true identify of the phone’s manufacturers.

Over the last few months shipments of “desktop computers” and other devices did not fall off, indicating that these “electric computers” represent a new product for the company rather than a simple renaming for their Customs declarations.

The initial shipments were followed on March 27, April 28, May 6 and May 17 with an additional 44 containers—each containing an estimated 40,000 units of the new phone.The sixteen containers imported by Apple Inc. itself—as opposed to the Quanta subsidiary—were delivered on March 19 and 27 to the Jonestown, Pa. facilities of Ingram Micro, Apple’s U.S. distribution partner.

The Quanta Computer USA shipments were delivered to that company’s distribution center in Freemont, Ca.Meanwhile, on the exact same dates as the shipments above, Schenker AG, another of Apple’s distribution partners, imported a total of 67 containers of this new product type from an undisclosed manufacturer in Shanghai, China.

Several of those products carried the Apple computer name in what appeared to be an accidental disclosure on the customs record.With arrival notification addresses in Vancouver, Canada, many of Schenker’s shipments appeared destined for the Canadian market. Apple has thus far not made the iPhone available in Canada, however Rogers Wireless recently announced that it would begin offering the item shortly. They declined to offer more specifics about when they would start selling the phones.

Apple Inc’s most recent shipment of the new products, Bill of Lading # HLCUSHA0803FTFR8, arrived at the port of New York on the Vessel NYK Delphinus on May 17th. That shipment contained 504 cartons, weighing 7140 kg, of the vaguely described “electric computer.”

Where Quanta sent all previous shipments to Apple—including 828 ocean containers of “desktop computers” since March—through a subsidiary, the new products were exported in Quanta’s own name. The change may reflect heightened secrecy surrounding the new products.

About ImportGenius.com

ImportGenius.com provides a powerful suite of competitive intelligence tools for the import-export industry, stock analysts and private equity investors. The company’s container shipping databases allow businesses to access detailed information on the U.S. importing activities of their competitors, their suppliers, their competitors’ suppliers, through an easy-to-use online search interface. Founded in 2007, ImportGenius.com is based in Scottsdale, Arizona.