Photo: Julen on Flickr.

Counterfeit iPhones have become so sophisticated that from looks alone you can barely tell them apart from their genuine counterparts. You might be disappointed to unwrap one after an eBay purchase. Or not — as a counterfeit mobile specialist tells us, the rip-offs have many accessories that Apple itself hasn’t got round to adding to the real thing, and the fakes cost around three times less.

Back in 2007, fake iPhones hit the shelves even before the iPhone itself did. At the time, the toy-like gadgets were seen to be pretty amusing and certainly no competition to the real thing. Two years on, however, with the genuine product still not available on the Chinese market, it’s the counterfeiters who are laughing now.

Products like the HiPhone have become so widespread that an American eBay user found himself unwrapping one of the fakes. He sent the phone to the Apple-authorised repair shop MacMedics, who then diagnosed the product and posted the following examination on their YouTube channel.

MacMedics’ diagnosis

Posted by MacMedics, 26 June 2009.

“Fake iPhones offer benefits that the real iPhone doesn’t”

Danny Friedmann is a counterfeit consultant specialised in electronics manufactured in China. He runs a blog on the subject, IP Dragon.

Apple obviously had an agenda with this video. The fake iPhones are not that slow, and they offer benefits that the real iPhone doesn’t.

The counterfeiters are, of course, parasites of investments already made by the genuine manufacturer, but they’re also highly innovative.

Many of the counterfeit iPhones are a little bit different from the original, and some of the counterfeiters even invest in their own branding.

The most popular are the “HiPhone” and the “iOrgane” (pronounced iOrange). These offer the Chinese consumer a product suited to them, for example they use Chinese characters. They also offer the consumer more freedom — you can own one without being forced to have a contract with a certain operator, which is the case with the iPhone in most countries.

The first phone to have two SIM cards was a counterfeit, and an application added by a counterfeiter is often later added to the next version of the genuine product.

Almost all mobile phones are copied. The most famous brands are NCKIA, SUMSANG and SUNY ERICSSUN.

There are, however, a few things manufacturers can do to try to prevent a product being counterfeited:

  • Release a product in all countries at the same time. If you build up big hype, then you should be able to meet the subsequent demand. In the example of the iPhone, Apple launched in the United States in June 2007 and yet still haven’t released the product in China, leaving a huge vacuum for counterfeiters to fill.
  • Listen to the market and keep improving the product. You have to stay ahead of the market — counterfeiters can turn round a good copy of a phone within two months of a sample being released.
  • Get a strong legal team. This isn’t very useful in China, though, where foreign companies are afraid of saying anything because they want to continue investing in the country, since it’s very cheap to manufacture there.

Convincing the Chinese people is another story. Everybody knows that the HiPhone or iOrgane is a fake, but many Chinese people take pride in the fact that it’s a Chinese product. In any case, few would be able to afford a real iPhone — it costs about three times as much!"

Which fake iPhone? Take your pick

A fake iPhone, with Chinese characters, next to the genuine product. Posted by “cyberlucky”.

 

One of the fakes with dual SIM cards (see top left-hand corner). Posted by “andallthatmalarkey”.

 

This product comes complete with a “waring” (sic): “It will break the law without authorized by Apple Inc if you use iPhone logo on any electronic products.” Posted by “jonesybunny”.

 

It's not difficult to detect this phone as a counterfeit — it’s simply a screensaver downloaded onto a normal mobile. Posted by “studiocurve“.