iFakes–China loves Apple products but doesn’t really want to pay for them

Like Apple products? Hate Apple prices? In China? Well, my friend, today is your lucky day. That is assuming you have a criminal or at least a mildly unethical nature.The other day, while out at the local electronics market in Suzhou, I took a quick browse through the mobile phone section. I’ve still got a few more months left to my Motorola Razr, but can’t help being drawn to row after row of glass-countered vendors, all making “come hither” motions.

With my recent entry into the World of Mac, my eye was immediately drawn to retailers with what looked like iPhones for sale. Being that iPhones haven’t officially been released in China (but soon maybe), I assumed at first glance that they must be the unlocked ones from Hong Kong. I had seen these at both “Authorized Apple Dealers” in the building, but was a little surprised they were being touted at every mom and pop dealer in the market.

Taking a closer look, it wasn’t hard to see that the iPhone was actually an iPhoney–or HiPhone (see listings at TaoBao or this online shop in English. Though the back of its shell is emblazoned with “iPhone” and it looks and feels passably like the real McCoy, feature-wise, it falls a bit short. The interface, though touch-sensitive, isn’t as slick as the real iPhone OS, and the model I looked at was noticeably missing accelerometer support.

Still, at a quarter of the price of an iPhone (1,100 yuan vs. 4,500 yuan or US$160 vs. US$660), it’s easy to see the HiPhone being a popular alternative in a country where form often wins out over function, and where having a phone that looks like an expensive iPhone is status enough.

d51c00d449b75d51400xApple iPhone? Nope–that’s a HiPhone, at a quarter of the price.And once you’ve gotten yourself a fake iPhone, there’s no reason you should have to pay high iTunes (hiTunes?) prices to fill that sucker with music. As the Outdustry blog reports:

In China’s biggest C2C online shopping site, Taobao, US$200 iTunes gift cards are for sale at 17.9 yuan, roughly US$2.60….

The owner of the Taobao shop told us frankly that the gift card codes are created using key generators. He also said that he paid money to use the hackers’ service.

Half a year ago, when they started the business, the price was around 320 yuan for a US$200 card. Then more people went into this business and the price went all the way down to 18 yuan per card, “but we make more money as the amount of customers is growing rapidly.”

I’d like to feel sympathy for Apple, I really would. There are all sorts of infringement issues here, including, I believe, outright fraud. However, I can’t help but feel the company has brought a bit of this on itself.

By holding out on releasing a legitimate version of the iPhone in mainland China for nearly two years now, all the while building it into the hottest mobile product on the planet, something was bound to give.

And though it’s true the company is still making coin off the unlocked “grey market” iPhones, Chinese consumers aren’t well-known for loyalty to a product simply because it’s “real”–often a logo or similar name is good enough. No word yet on a HiPod or a sMacBook running OSXie–but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.

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