updated 02:05 pm EST, Fri December 31, 2010
Chinese firms say iPad 2 cases based on real plans
Some of the companies behind recent iPad 2 case listings at online retailers like Alibaba have claimed or strongly implied that the information was obtained directly from Foxconn's parent firm Hon Hai. Fullchance Industrial, one of these companies, said in an interview on Friday that it was actively working with Hon Hai and had schematics directly from the contract manufacturer. The details were "extremely accurate," he told the Wall Street Journal when asked.
The Fullchance worker was nonetheless aware that the deal was likely a breach of contract, if not illegal, and refused to provide his name or explain the issue. It was "very serious," he said. Other companies promoting cases either refused to say anything or hung up immediately.
Officially, Hon Hai has either denied there being any evidence of leaked data or else called assertions by companies like Fullchance "hostile" towards Hon Hai. The assembler, whose main factories operate out of Shenzhen in southern China, has at least publicly maintained a policy of honoring the secrecy requests from those hiring it to make their devices.
Southeast Asian leaks have grown with increasing regularity in the past few years and have often seen pre-production iPhone and iPod cases emerge months before the finished product was ready. Although never truly confirmed, it's widely believed that key staffers at Hon Hai's Foxconn factories are routinely either bribed or strike illegal deals to supply information to small companies near the plants that want to get a head start on manufacturing. In at least one or two cases, this may have even involved escaped prototypes that appeared as far away as Vietnam.
Many other companies also often get spare parts or the technical details to build them, leading to the clones that often populate the Chinese market. The practice is common enough that a nickname, Shanzhai, has been given to a certain class of cheap and frequently imitative electronics sold in the country.
Apple hasn't publicly commented but has virtually confirmed that it's aware of the case leaks through a crackdown at Alibaba, which has removed most instances of the cases except for at least a pair of listings. The online portal's spokesman John Spelich wouldn't identify Apple by name, but did admit Alibaba had received a "legitimate takedown request."
The designs as shown have almost always followed the same formula, showing a camera on the back, a tapered design similar to the current iPod touch and a larger rear speaker. One newer design has shown a mystery slot opposite the volume controls that could be either an SD card slot or a regular USB port.