Even though the iPhone 4S has been officially released in China, the gray market for Apple’s pretty talking rectangle is alive and well. Suddenly, though, there are signs that China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (which may be having its busiest week ever) may be stepping in to take a bite out of the online gray market in iPhones. Several major mobile phone shops on Taobao have suddenly posted “Vacation” notices and stopped selling anything.
Specifically, popular shops like Very Mobile, Lanyou, Huayou Digital, Zhongyuan, and International Mobile have all posted front-page notices of suspended service. These notices are different, and all of them suggest that the “vacation” is being taken to improve their service standards, implement new training, etc. None of them specify when these major mobile phone vendors will be back in business, and there are (as yet unconfirmed) reports that these service suspensions are the result of MIIT dipping its (forgive me) mitts into the market in an attempt to cut down on gray-market iPhones. It’s worth noting that all of the stores we listed above were still prominently featuring Apple products on their front pages as of this writing.
Since many of the sites are still openly advertising gray-market iPhones, it’s hard to be sure what exactly is going on, but the simultaneous posting of these “vacation” messages is almost certainly not a coincidence. Whether it’s MIIT cracking down on gray-market iPhones or whether something else is going on isn’t yet clear, but it’s almost definitely some sort of regulatory issue, and cracking down on illegally imported iPhones seems as good a guess as any. Until we’ve heard more, feel free to speculate in the comments, and if you’re in the market for an imported iPhone…well, I’d suggest avoiding Taobao for the next couple of days.