Marvel At the Ingenuity of the Chinese iPhoney, iPhone Knockoffs Now Near Perfect

Fake iPhones are getting much better. This iPhoney is almost identical tot he genuine article, until it's booted up. It was bought by Steven Fernandeez of Toronto. CC-licensed picture by Steven Fernandez.

Fake iPhones are getting much better. This iPhoney is almost identical to the genuine article, until it's booted up. It was bought by Steven Fernandeez of Toronto. CC-licensed picture by Steven Fernandez.

Counterfeit iPhones have come a long way. They’re now almost identical to original iPhones, fooling bargain hunters on sites like eBay.

Look at the video below from Dana Stibolt, founder of MacMedics, who was given a fake iPhone bought on the auction site.

At first glance, it’s almost identical to current models, from the touchscreen to the volume switches on the side and the dock connector on the bottom.

“It looks EXACTLY like an iPhone,” says Stibolt. “But it does not work very well, and when it does work, it is very slow.”

Last year, knockoff iPhones were easy to spot. They were thicker, bulkier and often had extra buttons or keyboards.

Popular Chinese iClones like the A88 or SciPhone i68 are clearly fake.

But now convincing counterfeit iPhones are appearing on eBay and Craigslist. Unlike most previous knockoffs, these are almost indistinguishable from the originals.

“The fit and finish are pretty Apple like,” says Stibolt. “If you showed it to someone or you were using it in public, I don’t think you could tell. My only complaint was the lens of the phone was plastic and not glass. If they had used glass, it would have been very clever.”

Stibolt says the fake iPhone he examined had some cool extra features like built-in FM radio and a docking station with a speaker. He says the buyer bought the fake iPhone because it was advertised as unlocked, and he wanted to use it with a different carrier than AT&T. He paid about $250, Stibolt says.

The packaging of the new knockoff is especially realistic. It’s more or less identical to Apple’s packaging, and pictures of the box feature prominently in eBay listings. This makes the iPhoney look more genuine. (See related story about knockoff earbuds).

The new fake iPhone has an Apple logo on the back, making it a counterfeit rather than an iClone. When booted up, the home screen and icons are the same as the iPhone’s. But that’s where the similarity stops.

The software can’t be effectively copied, and the iPhoney soon betrays its Linux and Java roots. Many of the apps appear to work — the phone makes calls and checks email — but a lot of the software is slow and clunky.

The number of fake iPhones on the market is difficult to guage. One expert in counterfeiting, the audio manufacturer Shure, said counterfeiting is on the rise.

“With the increasingly globalized economy, counterfeiting continues to proliferate,” says Paul Applebaum, Executive Vice President and General Counsel for Shure, which has battled counterfeiters for several years. (see the full interview here). “This may be partly because modern technology makes it easier to produce counterfeits and the internet makes it easier to market and sell them to unsuspecting buyers.”

But how much counterfeiting is done, is impossible to say. “It’s difficult to know, because there is no reliable data about the counterfeit market,” says Applebaum. “Making and selling counterfeit products is a criminal activity, and as you might expect, counterfeiters are not eager to report their sales figures.”

However, there seems to be an increasing number of ripoff reports. EBay buyer lansingmike212, for example, is currently trying to sell a knockoff iPhone, though he’s warning buyers it’s not the genuine article. “Understand what you are bidding on,” he says.

Stibolt was asked to evaluate the fake iPhone in the video below by PayPal. Before issuing a refund, the company requires an authorized Apple service provider to certify it’s a fake, which Stibolt did.

Neither eBay nor Paypal responded to a request for comment. Apple also didn’t respond for a request for comment.

How can you tell if the iPhone you’re bidding on is a knockoff? Easy: the price is too good to be true.

The MacMedics iPhoney video is here.

Via Hardmac.

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About the author

Leander KahneyLeander Kahney is the editor and publisher of Cult of Mac. He is the NYT bestselling author of Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple's Greatest Products; Inside Steve’s Brain; Cult of Mac; and Cult of iPod. Leander has written for Wired, MacWeek, Scientific American, and The Guardian in London. Follow Leander on Twitter @lkahney and Facebook.

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