Bloomberg's Businessweek has a nice writeup on one of the shadier practices around a new Apple launch like the iPhone 4S this week: case manufacturers building their entire product lines off of leaked or sometimes illicitly obtained information. Businessweek profiles Tim Hickman of Hard Candy Cases (who's been forthcoming with us here at TUAW in the past about how he manufactures cases to be ready for new Apple products as soon as possible), and talks about how he and other manufacturers often build cases on leaked or incomplete information, always hoping to be the first to market to go around the latest and greatest iPhone.
Hickman is probably the most open about this practice (for better or worse -- someone in the article suggests his investors should be "nervous") but I've seen lots of other companies do this, even if specifics about it are off the record. As Hickman says in the article, Apple frowns on the practice, and Apple's blessing is what lands case products on Apple Store shelves, so it's obvious why most companies wouldn't be all that forthcoming about it.
Still, in the competitive world of iPhone and iPad cases, every advantage counts, so these companies will build cases based on whatever information they can get. Gambling even as much as $50,000, which Hickman says he spent on cases for what he hoped would be a thinner iPhone 4S (all wasted when the exterior design turned out to be the same as the iPhone 4), can be worth it, whether in terms of future research or early profit when the guesses are right.