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Apple iPhone 5 'now available' for pre-order; coincides with 'confirmed' launch date and latest photo leak

The release of Apple's next iPhone hasn't even been confirmed yet, but that hasn't stopped enthusiastic vendors using China's most popular e-commerce site, Taobao, from starting to advertise the device.

Listings on the Chinese equivalent of eBay claiming to offer the iPhone 5 for pre-order (see image, top) have been cropping up this week, despite the fact that the handset's moniker exists solely in the public imagination and the expected autumn release date is still pure speculation - though Know Your Mobile today cited a "reliable industry source" as confirming a 7 August announcement date for the device.

Mock-up images and projected spec lists feature in many of the listings, which generally ask for a deposit in the region of £100. Some sellers, however, are already demanding full payment, and others are being especially opportunistic by asking for a full payment of over £700.

"Demand is high. Yesterday someone just bought two phones. Altogether we have about two dozen orders," said one seller on Taobao who went by the nickname Xiaoyu, according to the national daily that first pushed the story.

It is thought that the online entrepeneurs are banking on a sophisticated smuggling operation involving external markets, as the latest technology typically goes on sale in places like Hong Kong, Japan, and the US well before it hits mainland China, with both manufacturers and network providers having to laboriously iron out the finer points of releases and service deals to satisfy the stringent regulations imposed by the ruling Communist Party.

Concurrent with news of the iPhone 5's 'descent' on to online marketplaces, was a new set of photos purporting to show the next-gen iPhone (right, next to an iPhone 4). These emerged via Kitguru, but the website has since taken down the images, citing "external pressure, which we are unable to detail publicly". However, they have already been widely distributed across the web.

These also follow on from images alleging to show an engineering sample of the upcoming mobile.

The latest pictures show a number of key design features, including a larger display and smaller dock connector heavily rumoured for some time now. The next iPhone will also run on a refreshed operating system, iOS 6, which Apple announced at its WWDC 2012 not too long ago.

The frenzy surrounding the latest iPhone is one indicator of the massive demand for Apple products in China, where official retailers are short on the ground and buyers tend to be drawn to a grey market to buy their products.

Emerging markets feature heavily in the plans of virtually all electronics companies, with Apple recently unveiling iPhone support for popular Chinese search engine Baidu as part of its drive to localise its product range.