Apple has never offered a more specific release date for the iPhone 4 in Australia than late July, and its plans for a US press conference on Friday that's rumoured to be announcing a strategy to deal with the well-documented antenna and reception issues suggest that a further delay is all too likely. But even without that development, past history suggests we're still some weeks away at best from a local release.
Predicting Apple's behaviour is a tricky game; after all, no-one anticipated that the iPad would get so many delays in its local launch. And there's a lot to be said for not rushing out and buying any new device the minute it's released, which the current iPhone 4 antenna kerfuffle demonstrates quite handily. However, we can get some guidance by looking at what's happened with the two previous iPhone releases in Australia (the 3 and the 3GS).
The 3's Australian release date was July 11, 2008, and that date was announced a whole month before, on June 10. The first carrier to announce pricing details was Optus, but it did so only eight days before launch. Vodafone chimed in one day before, and Telstra only released its pricing on the day the phone actually went on sale.
With the 3GS, the gap was shorter: the phone was announced on June 9 2009, and released in Australia on June 26 — 17 days later. Optus was again the first cab off the rank, but only got in four days ahead this time. Vodafone chimed in two days before the launch, and Telstra again only announced on the day.
What does this tell us about the iPhone 4? We've already gone more than a month since the "late July" data was announced on June 8. Historically, there's been at least a week for carriers to announce their iPhone pricing deals (if they so choose). If by some miracle an iPhone 4 announcement for Australia was made tomorrow, it would still be a real stretch for it to appear before the end of the month.
Whatever date gets announced, it seems more obvious than ever that racing out and buying an iPhone 4 on the first day won't get you the best choice of deals. Given Telstra's history of last-minute pricing, you won't be able to do any proper sort of comparison shopping in advance. And while we've had the advantage of learning what works and what doesn't on the iPhone 4, how that plays out on Australian networks once there's mass adoption will take a while to determine.
Apple is a strange and inscrutable company at times, and I'll happily wear the flak if they send out a press release 20 minutes after this post goes up complete with Australian launch details. If past history is any guide, though, iPhone lovers will be waiting quite a while longer.