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Copycat China: knock-off Apple Watches on sale just one day after timepiece is unveiled

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 March, 2015, 10:14am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 April, 2015, 11:30am

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Shenzhen is devoutly paying homage to Apple with several companies launching clones of the Apple Watch ahead of its release next month.

The fact that such devices are on the market so early – some companies launched their Apple Watch imitator months ago – underscores the speed at which Chinese shanzhai (knock-off) manufacturers are able to bring copies to the market.

Many lookalikes can be found in Shenzhen's Huaqiangbei commercial area – the mainland's best place to shop for electronics, digital products and hi-tech knock-offs – as well as popular e-commerce websites.

Even though many knock-off smartwatches make no attempt to look different from Apple’s latest offering, and their range of functions can’t begin to compete with it, some have unexpected features not found on the official device.

Mainland-based company Zeaplus' aluminium-bodied Zeaplus Watch could easily be mistaken for an Apple product if you don’t get past its appearance and try out its functions.

It has a 2 megapixel camera at the bottom of the watch that can be taken off when you want to take a photograph, according to the company's website, which markets the watch as a covert spying device.

It also has a slot for a micro SIM card, enabling users to make and receive calls from their wrist, unlike the Apple Watch, which needs to be connected to an iPhone.

The Zeaplus Watch also comes with a pedometer for counting steps and a heart rate sensor. The company has not released a price, but said it would be available for online pre-order later this month.

Another company, Shenzhen-based wearable maker Zhimeide has brought out its D Watch, which mimics the design and style of Apple’s new offering, right down to its digital crown and the position and size of the side button.

As well as the expected functions, the D Watch also lets you control your smartphone camera’s auto-focus with the watch’s button, which may come in handy for selfie junkies. It also boasts a feature that will help you find your lost smartphone by setting off the handset’s ringtone and vibration.

Its interface comes in eight languages but is only compatible with Android smartphones. The watch has a 160 mAh battery, which the company says has a standby time of 180 hours or 7.5 days, though it admits this drops to only three hours with heavy use. The Apple Watch has also been criticised for its battery shortcomings, requiring charging at least once per day. 

The product is currently on sale on 1688.com, Alibaba’s wholesale e-commerce website, with prices starting at 298 yuan for less than 100 units, 190 yuan for between 100 and 1,000 units, and 170 yuan for over 1,000 units.

Photos posted online show other devices, some practically identical to the Apple Watch, already on sale in Huaqiangbei.

"[The watches] come in many different colours and sell only for 99 yuan. I think it won’t be long before the shanzhai New Macbook comes into being," said one Weibo poster, referring to the gold 12-inch Macbook, which was announced on Monday

Since the early 2000s, companies in Shenzhen have been the centre of the mainland's shanzhai industry, which churns out electronic goods that imitate well-known brands very quickly – concept to delivery is often achieved within weeks – and very cheaply, often at less than half the price of the genuine product.

Some unexpected products have come out of this process, such as phones that can carry multiple SIM cards, now a common feature of many handsets produced by big name manufacturers. 

 
 
 

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