They show up in the early-morning hours: Chinese men and women, waiting silently and somewhat nervously outside of Apple stores in New York. On some days the lines they form can be a block long.
Customers in line to buy phones at an Apple store in SoHo. Some of the phones will be resold to end up on the streets of China.
These are not typical Apple fans. Instead they are participants in a complex and curious trade driven by China’s demand for Apple’s fashionable gadgets — products that are made in China in the first place and exported, only to make the long trip back.
Participants in New York and Shanghai say the process works like this: People wait in line at an Apple store to buy the newest iPhone for $600, paying a premium to skip the AT&T contract. They then sell the phones to middlemen, usually at electronics stores in Chinatown, for about $750.
The phones are shipped off to China, where the iPhone 4 is not yet on sale, and are distributed to local shops and e-commerce sites, where they sell for as much as $1,000. Once the phones have been “unlocked” to break their ties to AT&T, they can be used with local carriers. - NY Times