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Friday, March 28, 2008, 09:00 am PT (12:00 pm ET)

Hon Hai rumored for 3G iPhone contract as Gartner backtracks

Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., a long time Apple manufacturing partner and the largest builder of electronics components worldwide, is rumored to have landed the 3G iPhone contract. Meanwhile, Gartner is backtracking on claims that Apple has placed orders for 10 million of the next-generation handsets.

Without citing sources, the Chinese-language Commercial Times reported Friday that Taiwan-based Hon Hai, which operates stateside under the trade name Foxconn Electronics, is currently in the bidding for the 3G iPhone contract from Apple.

Should Hon Hai successfully land the contract, it could ship an additional 10 million mobile handsets per year, the paper said.

However, a subsequent report filed by Dow Jones cited a person familiar with the matter as saying the Taiwanese assembler has already closed on the deal and will serve as the exclusive manufacturer of the next-generation Apple handset, which would presumably go into production soon.

Meanwhile, Gartner is attempting to clarify earlier statements about the 3G iPhone, specifically a claim by analyst Ken Dulaney that Apple placed an order for 10 million of the handsets.

The market research firm now admits that it's uncertain about the accuracy of that claim, saying that it has no solid information to suggest that a contract has been signed or that a definitive order has been placed.

"If Apple was to place an order, than 10 million would be a reasonable number," analyst Bob Hafner explained. "And we absolutely believe that in the next-generation iPhone 3G will be there."

For their part, both Apple and its exclusive US wireless provider AT&T have both made comments by way of their top brass to suggest that a version of the iPhone capable of running on third-generation wireless networks would hit the market sometime this year.

"We've got to see the battery lives for 3G get back up into the five-plus-hour range,'' Apple chief executive Steve Jobs said last September in response to inquiries over a 3G model at the UK iPhone launch. "Hopefully we'll see that late next year.''

Two months later, AT&T Inc. chief executive Randall Stephenson flat out stated that a 3G model was in the cards for 2008.

"You'll have it next year," he said while speaking during a November 2007 meeting of the Churchill Club in Santa Clara, Calif.