A month before Apple Inc.'s smartwatch hits the market, China's thriving copycat manufacturers are selling lookalikes, some openly advertised as Apple copies. "Apple Smart Watch with Bluetooth Bracelet," says one vendor on Alibaba Group's popular Taobao e-commerce website. Photos on the vendor's page appear to be the real Apple Watch. It says features on the Chinese version include text messaging and a music player. It starts at 288 yuan ($45), or one-eighth the $349 price of the cheapest Apple Watch. Alibaba, which listed on the New York Stock Exchange last year after a record initial public offering, has faced criticism in the past for hosting the sale of counterfeit goods. It says it has been taking steps to reduce the problem. The flood of "me too" smartwatches reflects China's mix of skilled electronics manufacturers and a growing consumer market for bargain-price style.
Most of the world's personal computers and mobile phones are assembled in China. But this country's own companies are only starting to develop design skills and the ability to create breakthrough products. That has led to the rise of an industry known as "shanzhai," or "mountain forts" hundreds of small, anonymous manufacturers that quickly copy the design or features of popular foreign products at a fraction of the price.
At least eight vendors on Taobao advertised watches as "Apple Watch" or "Apple Watch lookalike." Most said they were compatible with Apple's iOS or Google Inc.'s rival Android operating system. One vendor jokingly used Chinese slang for a vulgar rich person, offering an "All-New Apple Tyrant Gold Mobile Phone-Supporting Watch" for 288 yuan ($45). Eight vendors failed to respond to questions from The Associated Press. Asked whether it had taken action against any sellers, Alibaba said in a statement, "Alibaba Group is dedicated to the fight against counterfeits. We work closely with our government partners, brands and industry associations to tackle this issue at its source. We also utilize technology like data mining and big data to scrub our platforms of counterfeits." Alibaba faced controversy in January after a Chinese government agency accused the company of lax oversight and allowing vendors to sell counterfeit goods on Taobao.
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