Chinese Knockoffs: Fake iPhones and Strange Sights at a Shenzhen Market

An eye-opening walkthrough a major cell phone street market in the freewheeling city of Shenzhen, China.

Fake Red iPhone Trays

Imitating the iPhone and other Apple products is all the rage in China's knock-off electronics industry, which is largely based in Shenzhen. In this photo, a tray full of counterfeit iPhones sits beside a vendor's stall in the market. It's just the top in a stack of trays, each holding just as many fake iPhones.

The Crowds

Shoppers, sellers, packaging teams and the occasional take-out delivery boy crowded each floor of the market. The ripping sound of packing tape being unrolled to strap together reused boxes routinely split through the other background noise. The vendors in this market sell to individuals but mainly do wholesale, shipping orders to countries often in Europe, the Middle East and Latin America.

Fake iPhones Behind Glass

Counterfeit iPhones are the most common sight in the market. They come with different price tags according to their screen size, thickness, software quality and more. Fake iPhones are also sold elsewhere in the city, including in a hole-in-the-wall store right beside mainland China's border crossing with Hong Kong -- in surprising proximity to customs.

Fake "Sansung" Phone

Many of the knock-off mobile phones made in China are printed with well-known brand names that have slightly altered spelling, such as Sansung, Nckia or Souy Ericssom. This one carries such a label but also shows how these phones often come with innovative elements either rare or nonexistent in branded handsets. This phone has a built-in analog clock that is visible whether the phone is open or closed.

Avatar Phone

Did you love the movie? Then get the Avatar phone! Some enterprising fellow gave this phone an Avatar logo, an Avatar background and short video clips from the movie that play when you turn the phone on or off. Avatar was a huge hit in China, but the speed with which this phone appeared for sale after the movie's release still shows how quickly the makers of these phones can move. The phones are often sold without any government testing, licenses or concern about intellectual property rights, so a good idea can become a phone in no time.

Vendor Display

Vendors pack all the phones they can into the display cases in their cramped stalls. Inside this case is a row of wristwatch-phones. You dial using a keypad on the edge of the watch, but you can pair the device with a headset to make talking easier. Shenzhen is part of an industrial belt in China where gadgets including the iPhone and iPod are put together, giving 'bandit' phone makers close access to cheap manufacturing and, for the piracy-inclined, possible knowledge of proprietary information from foreign brands.

iPhone in Name Only

This is one of many mobile phones and other devices that looks nothing like an Apple product but still comes stamped with the name iPhone or with an image of the trademark Apple logo. The Chinese word used to describe these phones roughly translates as 'bandit.' The term technically refers to any phone that lacks required government permits, which can also mean the iPhone look-alikes or more creative handsets like the Lamborghini phone...

Lamborghini Phone

Many of the phones sold at this and other Chinese markets are knock-offs, but others are inventive new takes on the mobile phone. This phone is shaped like a Lamborghini, with a camera lens embedded in the car's hood and the screen and keypad hidden on the car's underbelly. The car's wheels even spin, so you and your friends can race your phones.

Cigarette Pack Phone

Pull this out of your shirt pocket and friends will see a pack of cigarettes--that top row of the three can even be packed with real smokes. But turn the box over and you'll see it's another mobile phone. The imitation cigarette box design was among the most creative at the market. There is purportedly another 'bandit' phone out there with a built-in metal section that heats up so you can light cigarettes. Not to mention the one that has an electric razor built into one end, or the one that comes with extra-large speakers so farmers in the field can hear their phone ringing.

Mickey Mouse Phone

Disney fans can pick up tiny phones shaped like the iconic heads of Mickey or Minnie Mouse. There's a camera lens in Mickey's nose, and the shape of his head appears again on buttons on the keypad.

Outside the Market

The market that these pictures are from is just one of many multi-story buildings in a district of Shenzhen where mobile phones, laptops, other handheld gadgets and all types of electronic components are sold in aisle after aisle of vendor stalls.

iPod Style Phones

These phones copy the distinctive iPod scroll wheel and come with bright iPod-style colors to attract shoppers' eyes and dollars. You can press the buttons on the wheel, but you can't scroll down a menu by running your finger around the wheel like on a real iPod. That function would push up costs for the phone maker, and competition is rough in this low-margin industry. Vendors asked prices running from 200 yuan (US$30) to 700 yuan ($100) for most handsets in the market, though haggling could bring prices down.

Rolex Phone

Some of these handsets also steal brand labels from companies that have nothing to do with phones. This phone carries the Rolex name and logo despite having no features reminiscent of a wristwatch. But the branding is still a popular tactic -- other phones in the market were labeled BMW or even Gucci.

Fake Lephone

Chinese companies are also hurt by the knock-off phones. The Lephone is supposed to be an upcoming high-end smartphone, using Google's Android operating system and made by major Chinese PC vendor Lenovo. But a company calling itself 'li feng' in Chinese, which sort of sounds like Lephone, has already stamped the name on this generic handset.

Small Phone Circle Keypad

This phone will save space in your pocket -- it's about as long as an index finger. It also comes with a keypad that looks inspired by an old rotary phone. This one splits the numbers onto two keypads, but other phones on sale in the market crammed the digits zero through nine all onto the edge of one circular keypad.

Alien Head Shaped Phone

Some of the phones sold in the market are not 'bandit' phones. The stall owner selling these phones, shaped something like the stereotypical alien heads of sci-fi fame, says they come from a legitimate Chinese phone brand called ZTC. He also says they're meant for girls -- notice the plastic crystal-shaped push buttons beneath the screens.

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