China's black market can build an iPhone from scratch

China’s black market can build an iPhone from scratch


iPhone black market China
China's black market looks like "an iPhone factory has thrown up all over itself."
Photo: Brian Merchant/Wired

iPhone-turns-10-1You don’t have to visit a Foxconn factory to see an iPhone built from scratch.

Visit China’s black market and you’ll meet traders with the components, tools, and know-how to build you a working handset for a fraction of the price you would pay Apple. The whole process is complete by the time you’ve finished your coffee.

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In a piece for Wired to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the iPhone, Brian Merchant, author of new book The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone, describes how he bought an iPhone 4s for just 350 renminbi (about $50) on the streets of Shenzhen.

But this wasn’t just any iPhone 4s. It was a model built from scratch using individual components sourced from various traders. You can find everything you need — and the people to build it — in China’s black market.

“In downtown Shenzhen, a couple blocks from the famed electronics market, this smoky four-story building the size of a suburban minimall is an emporium for refurbished, reused and black-market iPhones,” Merchant writes.

“You have to see it to believe it. I’ve never seen so many iPhones in one place — not at an Apple Store, not raised by the crowd at a rock concert, not at the Consumer Electronic Show.”

Everything you could possibly want is there, including original Apple parts, and custom iPhone casings made out of 24-carat gold that cost just $10. It looks like “an iPhone factory that has thrown up all over itself,” Merchant says.

Merchant found a trader who was willing to build him his iPhone 4s. He sourced all the parts required, then built it from scratch in 15 minutes.

The full story, which is a fascinating read, is over at Wired. You’ll find more coverage celebrating the iPhone’s tenth anniversary right here.


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