UPDATE [Thursday, December 1, 2011 at 8:50am ET]: Carrier NTT DoCoMo has issued an official statement addressing the Nikkei Business report, included at the end of the article.

According to the Japanese blog Macotakara, which relayed a Nikkei Business story, Apple is gearing up for a 2012 release of both 4G LTE iPhone and iPad on NTT DoCoMo, the predominant mobile phone operator in Japan. According to the machine-translated article:

NTT DOCOMO releases iPad for LTE in the summer of next year and releases iPhone for LTE by autumn.

The Fall 2011 timeframe for a 4G LTE iPhone 5 sounds right as it’s about a year since the October 14 debut of iPhone 4S. The carrier’s president Takashi Yamada and vice president Kiyoyuki Tsujimura allegedly met with Apple CEO Tim Cook mid-November to discuss the deal. They reportedly “agreed in principle” to sell both the next-generation iPhone and iPad. The executives apparently pinned down the rules of the game at the meeting, including order commitment.

Despite the rumor-mill insisting that Apple was readying a 4G LTE iPhone, the company’s management downplayed the fourth-generation Long Term Evolution radio technology because the current crop of 4G LTE chips are not fully optimized for low power consumption on mobile devices. Apple’s chief financial officer Peter Oppenheimer said on an April 2011 earnings call:

The first generation of LTE chipsets force a lot of design compromises with the handset, and some of those we are just not willing to make.

The Wall Street Journal reported mid-November that negotiations with carriers in Asia came to a standstill because Apple was requiring iPhone sellers to commit to too large a volume. Additionally, NTT DoCoMo wanted to control what software goes on users’ iPhones, a concession Apple was unwilling to make.

Apple doesn’t have a prior distribution agreement with NTT DoCoMo. Instead, the Cupertino, California designer of gadgets partnered with local carrier Softbank to sell the handset to customers in Japan. Beginning with iPhone 4S, Softbank’s exclusivity ended as Apple cut an agreement with au/KDDI. As you know, 9to5Mac yesterday discovered evidence pointing to a next-generation iPhone and iPad in the code of iOS 5.1 Beta, which was seeded to developers on Monday. An iPhone 5,1 reference is of particular interest as it indicates a major iPhone update likely involving Apple’s A6 chip, designed in-house and believed to sport four ARM Cortex A15 processing cores and an unknown graphics core. An iPad 2,4 reference, which we also discovered in iOS 5.1 Beta code, implies a carrier variation, which could mean anything from a 4G LTE version to a GSM+CDMA dual-mode device to a Sprint iPad 2 or something completely new. In a somewhat related iPhone news, carrier China Unicom is said to be awaiting the final paperwork to begin selling iPhone 4S in China. The country’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology recently finished testing the device, it passed the necessary wireless regulatory tests and is now certified for public consumption. China, the 1.33 billion people market, recently overtook the United States to become the world’s leading market for smartphones. Accounting for twelve percent of Apple’s fiscal 2011 revenue, or about fifteen billion dollars, China is increasingly becoming one of Apple’s key growth regions.

UPDATE: A statement by NTT DoCoMo has been issued, appearing to debunk the Nikkei Business story. A machine-translated version reads:

Thanks for your patronage is NTT DoCoMo’s services and products, Thank you. Today, in some reports, the company Apple “iPhone” and “iPad” There were reports indicating the start of treatment. At the moment, “iPhone” and “iPad” Handling of the fact that no basic agreement with the company Apple. Moreover, at present, “iPhone” and “iPad” regarding the handling of, and there is the fact that concrete negotiations with Apple.

It doesn’t make a lot of sense and our Japanese is a little rusty so we’re asking readers who are fluent in Japanese to help us accurately translate NTT DoCoMo’s statement.

Wow, that was fast. Reader Philip S. chimed in with the following translation:

Thank you for using the services and products of NTT DoCoMo Group. Today, there have been news that our company will start handling/servicing/manage iPhone and iPad, but at the present day we do not have a basic agreement with Apple Inc. Furthermore, at the present time, we don’t even have any concrete/specific/tangible negotiation with Apple Inc. regarding the service/management/handling of iPhone and iPad.

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