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Where are iPhone rumors born?

China, Al Gore, analysts? Almost all of the recent rumors--and there have been plenty--can be traced back to one of eight types of sources.


It seems like there's been a new iPhone rumor--if not two--every day for months now. But where do all the iPhone 5 rumors come from? Some say it will be released in June...or August...or October; and it will have a tear-drop shape, or a Transylvanian bevel, or come equipped with its own cloaking device. Ok, some of those may have been the product of too much Mountain Dew and SyFy before bed, but the iPhone rumor mill is nearly as wacky.

Part of the reason is that Apple is so tight-lipped about everything, it leaves the rest of the world grasping at straws to guess what the company has in store. And sometimes it seems like those straws are laced with hallucinogens that get passed up the tech gossip food chain, translated, re-translated, and then synthesized by the likes of us here at CNET to see how it fits into the big picture of what we might already know about the new iPhone. Unfortunately, much of that knowledge probably also came from similar straws.

With each new rumor we always try to convey a sense of where the information is coming from and how trustworthy the source seems to be. There's actually many more iPhone rumors out there that never see the light of day because we and other media outlets deem the sources to be too unreliable.

I took a look back at the rumors that seemed worth reporting between June and now and was able to trace almost all of them--and there were plenty--back to one of eight types of sources.

1. China and other spots along the Apple supply chain: Perhaps the biggest source of rumors this iPhone cycle has been Asia, whether it's product leaks from the massive Foxconn factories that manufacture and assemble the bulk of Apple products, or from the many component makers spread across the region, or even the smallest after-market accessory maker churning out cheap off-brand iPhone cases. For the past year it's been a steady stream of clues coming from these sources based on design drawings, covert photos of components, or inventory labels, or some other tiny tidbit. Of course, the supply chain does also reach all the way to these United States, where CNET reported on dueling Best Buy leaks earlier this year.

2. Sketchy translations of Japanese and Chinese blogs: These days, Google Translate may be one of the biggest enablers of the iPhone rumor mill. Each country has its own tech gossip infrastructure, and because Asian countries wake up before us each day and are physically closer to those device-manufacturing facilities, their blogs often get early scoops. For whatever reason, though, most of them are uneven in their reliability at best.

3. A combination of bad Asian news translations and implications read into minute details of a slideshow presentation: Sometimes the rumor mongers really go the long way to make a connection, like this example involving the possibility of HSPA connectivity coming to the iPhone 5. Remember, this is one that we deemed worth writing about, so you can imagine the crazy suppositions that don't make it through, like the one about the iPhone 5 discovered in the belly of a fish caught off the coast of Mexico. That one turned out to be a joke poking fun at the silliness of all the iPhone rumors--oh sweet irony.

4. Anonymous sources: So many anonymous sources talking to so many blogs and news outlets. But who are they, and can they be trusted? In my experience--reporting on all sorts of things, not just iPhones--I've been approached by all different sorts of folks wanting to talk on condition of anonymity. This includes, but is not limited to, analysts, PR people, other bloggers and journalists, former employees who think they know something, former employees who actually know something, former employees with a clear axe to grind, delivery people who may have seen something they shouldn't have, friends of the delivery guy, and even occasionally, current employees who actually know what they're talking about. We'll soon find out who has the best sources for iPhone 5 information, but so far The Wall Street Journal and our friends at All Things Digital have the best batting average. Their sources proved correct about the only thing we now know for sure--that the iPhone will be unveiled this week.

5. Random guesses based on the schedules of other companies: A popular source of rumors this go-round has been the carriers and other companies with relationships with Apple. AT&T and other companies warned their employees to expect a busy October, and word even leaked out of Apple retail stores that vacation days were a no-no in October. Even the scheduled dates for Twitter developer events have fueled iPhone release speculation.

6. Al Gore: It only makes sense that the man who invented the Internet and/or climate change--depending on who you ask--would have the inside scoop on the next iPhone(s).

7. Analysts: Perhaps the most reliable group on this list, analysts are often briefed on many tech companies' plans, and lots of other companies pay big bucks for their holistic knowledge of an industry. In other words, they have actual inside information and stand to lose the most if they get it wrong.

8. Detective developers: By far my favorite group on this list (sorry, Mr. Vice President) are the clever developers who encounter iPhone clues from time to time from pieces of data that would be completely esoteric or indecipherable to mere mortals. Check out how these developers discovered evidence of a dual mode iPhone 5.

Seems like there's a big business opportunity for at least one group that we didn't see any rumors from this year--anyone know a good iPad psychic?