Apple’s new Watch range won’t be on sale until late next month.
But Chinese consumers whose appetite for the wrist-mounted communications technology has been whetted by the high profile Apple Watch launch last week can already buy similar products at a fraction of the price.
One is real, the other is a copy. Can you tell which is which? Answer at the end of the story.
Knock-offs, copies, imitations, fakes – it’s hard to categorise the new breed of rival products hitting retail store shelves. For sure, some are blatant copies of the Apple Watch and their makers are likely to find themselves on the receiving end of litigation from Cupertino. But others fit into a large grey field of the retail landscape: conceptually they may be similar, they may even look alike (a watch is a watch, right?) but some operate on Google’s Android operating system making it extremely difficult to dub them fakes.
The official Apple Watch goes on sale in three styles, ranging in price from US$350 to $17,000.
But already Alibaba’s Taobao is selling a watch called the AW08 for $59 which can be connected to devices running Google Android and delivered within 24 hours. Other similar products cost as little as $39.
According to tech news website Geekwire.com, other “knock-offs” branded D-Watch, Airwatch A8 and Ai Watch are also available on Taobao at prices substantially below the Apple Watch and “designed to look just like the Apple Watch”.
Some commentators question whether the knock-off phase will damage Apple, in a nation where image and status is of growing importance, or if all the hoopla will actually help Apple’s brand and product awareness, driving sales of the ‘real McCoy’.
“Most people who buy them will do so knowing they are not Apple’s real Watch,” Matthew Forney, president of the business consultancy Fathom China, told the BBC.
“Apple products are very popular in China, and it’s possible that Chinese consumers will want to be seen to be the first person on their block to wear its Watch. However, I think most of those consumers are aware that there has been an issue with fakes and copycats on Taobao and would be highly suspicious of the devices.”
Others are worried about the damage such businesses do to brands in general.
“These guys are specialists,” Laurent Le Pan, founder and CEO of the Omate smartwatch maker told CNN Money.
“The speed at which they can bring copies on the market is amazing. The hardware is not the big challenge – the hard part is on the software and the application side. In the end, you sometimes need to be an expert to tell the difference between real and fake.”
For now, Apple might own the Watch space with the perception it is the first to market – other brands have already released smart watches of their own, but to date few if any connect to smartphones, their features largely limited to exercise measuring and physical fitness monitoring. But that won’t hold for too long, with Apple’s second wave of competition coming from established genuine brands rather than the armada of copycats.
Swatch, the world’s largest watchmaker, plans to launch a smart watch to undercut Apple and other legitimate rivals featuring Near Field Communication (NFC) chips later this year, which will allow payments by watch, among other features.
Rival manufacturers will have to be compatible with iOs or Android, so most will focus on Android given the likely barriers Apple will place on sanctioning direct competitors on its own OS.
- Real or copy? The genuine Apple watch is the one with the Mickey Mouse character on the face. The other is an AW08 on sale on Taobao.