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December 14th, 2010
02:47 PM ET

It's a Shanzhai Christmas!


Shanzhai (山寨) is such an awesome word.

It's Chinese slang to describe a range of pirated or imitation goods. But with a difference. Shanzhai products include cellphones, cameras, computers and laptops that try their darndest to look like the real deal.

But Chris Chang of MIC Gadget offers a more nuanced definition. He says, "if a device looks like the authentic iPhone at first sight, we call it an iPhone knockoff. If it doesn't, we just call it shanzhai."

In tech markets like Shenzhen's Huaqiangbei you can score shanzhai versions of everything from Sony PSP players to Nokia phones. But Apple's designs are the most copied, as they are the most coveted.

Chang, a 19-year-old student based in Hong Kong, came by the studio armed with a select array of charming and eyebrow-raising shanzhai gifts including the shanzhai iPad. At first glance, you can imediately tell it's smaller than the real thing. It also runs a rival operating system, Google's Android, and lacks a truly multi-touch screen. In fact, you have to use your fingernails to touch it. But the shanzhai version has a handy feature that Apple left out of its tablet - a micro SD card slot. It retails in China for $135.

Next up, the Magic Mouse Phone. It has absolutely no link to the iPhone and looks just like Apple's mouse. It's a $45 GSM-only handset styled after a much-loved peripheral. Consider it a charming nod to Apple's design savvy.  Shanzhai as geek tribute.

And then Chang revealed the very buzzy Apple Peel. It's a skin that turns an Apple iPod Touch into a GSM-only iPhone. When fully charged, it provides 4.5 hours of call time and 120 hours of standby time. Price tag? $45.

It may be a clever hack, but you have to extremely clever to put it together. It took Chang more than two hours to assemble at his first go, and that after jailbreaking his iPhone.

And yet Chang is a big fan, as the Apple Peel showcases Made-in-China tech not as a shameless rip-off or even shanzhai tribute... but as a "magical" example of innovation.

But there is one more thing...

The S-J "iDoll" is designed by MIC Gadget. With black turtleneck, glasses, and New Balance sneakers... it is a remakarable likeness. MIC had 300 figures made and, at just under $80 a pop, they quickly sold out. But then Apple told them to stop immediately, for violating Apple's copyrights and trademarks.

A bit ironic, considering the blog's content. It is after all a celebration of all things shamelessly shanzhai.

soundoff (37 Responses)
  1. Sepirus

    This is not surprising. China demonstrates capitalism at its worst, if you can even put it in the category of capitalism. Innovation without respect of ownership is capitalistic anarchy. This small example is an example of a wider Chinese trend, lack of creation, embrace of reproduction.

    But we have only ourselves to blame by putting advanced technology producing factories in a country looking to gain any and every economic advantage it can. Want to stop Chinese piracy, Apple, move your factories back home.

    December 15, 2010 at 3:52 am | Reply
  2. James

    poorly written, only talked about Apple products. disgusting.

    December 15, 2010 at 4:25 am | Reply
  3. Chen

    Asking Apple to move the factories back to America? Will people have the stomach to pay for an American made Ipad, Ipod, Iphone, Imac?

    Last time they made it there, I had to pay $9000 for a Mac IIe. That was 1992. In case people weren't born then to know the tidbits.

    Easier said than done.

    By the way, you can't patent the look of a product. I use an IPhone look alike Chinese phone. The casing might look like Iphone, but slightly thicker. Screen resolution is different. It runs a licensed Win Mobile OS. So what is pirated?

    I wouldn't listen to every word from some tech-challenged, China-bashing journalists.

    December 15, 2010 at 6:49 am | Reply
  4. Suzuner

    I won't be surprised if i see my shanzai version in the market one day.

    December 15, 2010 at 7:09 am | Reply
  5. Sachim

    Good article
    @james:- Aplle is a good company and its products are in demand

    December 15, 2010 at 8:06 am | Reply
  6. Justina

    When will China have nation-wide transparency?

    December 15, 2010 at 8:25 am | Reply
  7. JesterJames

    That Apple Peel thing looks interesting. as for days of China emulating, copying etc. is rapidly coming to an end. China is putting out things that's being copied by others, like Farmville of Facebook, was put up 6 months after Chinese made HappyFarm proved to be a huge success on Chinese social network QQ. One of the hottest Item this holiday, the induction charging devices use technology developed by a Chinese company.

    December 15, 2010 at 8:27 am | Reply
  8. Tai-Pan

    Chinese consumer electronics is a rising force in the global sense. We've got a website dedicated to reviewing tons of these devices and its amazing how quickly they are catching on in western markets.

    They are definitely not all copycats and some are much more innovative than the Samsung Galaxy Tab is for example compared to an iPad.

    Just saying... http://www.shanzai.com

    December 15, 2010 at 9:00 am | Reply
  9. Brian

    Sepirus is spot on. I've lost respect for CNN after seeing a blatant celebration of IPR theft published on their site.

    While companies like Apple are spending millions a year combating the problem, CNN is telling consumers exactly where they can go to support the problem. Perhaps CNN would like to publish the bank account numbers of corrupt local officials who provide protection to counterfeit producers and sellers in China so everyone can donate to the cause?

    December 15, 2010 at 9:29 am | Reply
  10. peter

    China is the best Microsoft and Apple have too much money already so go pirated products; i like how China doesnt care what the US thinks

    December 15, 2010 at 9:30 am | Reply
  11. Jamie

    Which of these products is pirating technology from Apple?

    December 15, 2010 at 9:39 am | Reply
  12. lyrobbie

    Not Everyone in China like to buy ShanZhan. Only those who have limited disposal income, they will be prone to it for a fad. Improve people income is the first priority.

    December 15, 2010 at 10:05 am | Reply
  13. John

    Those who feel that copying is a problem are living in the past. The concept of 'intellectual property' is quickly becoming outdated. We are approaching a time when all publicly available information will be free for everyone.

    In the near future, product innovation will not be enough. Rapid adaptability will be the new basis for competition. In this regard the Chinese are already ahead of Europe, with its inflexible labor market, and the U.S. which is hampered by a legal system that encourages litigious behavior.

    December 15, 2010 at 10:30 am | Reply
  14. Abu

    If Apple makes the iPhone outside China, then the price tag will be double, and you will only get it Christmas 2011 0r 2012. Let's face it, China is the world's factory, and you got to make it there if you want to stay competitive.

    December 15, 2010 at 10:39 am | Reply
  15. Damien

    @Sepirus/Brian – a basic tenet of modern business is if your product isn't good enough to defend itself using its own merits, then its not innovative enough or does not provide enough value to the consumer for the innovations it does have. If you're worried about these knockoffs you're looking at the problem from a protectionist standpoint which never works in the long run.

    As for publishing where to get these items, I say feel free. The target consumer of the fake products are completely different from the intended targets of the original items.

    Before spouting verbage bordering on anti-sino rhetoric, perhaps thinking about where true value in product innovation comes from would benefit you more. Complaining about the realities of the world will not do you any good, addressing them through continued innovation will. Want jobs to come back to the US? Instead of closing borders and forcing apple to produce at home where an iphone would cost $5000 (its $800 retail now w/o contract), raise the standards in other countries so the natural choice for business is to produce at home. Either that or you can wait for transport costs to increase so much that producing things abroad becomes prohibiively expensive.

    Either way, freaking out about China will not do you any good and only makes you look xenophobic. How about getting back to good American initiative and hard work? That would be far more effective than pointing fingers.

    December 15, 2010 at 11:54 am | Reply
  16. Aluck

    I hate chinese product, pirates. I hate the way they pirate Nokia phones. Why should CNN be happy about this?

    December 15, 2010 at 12:15 pm | Reply
  17. xilee

    That's how commies fight against capitalism

    December 15, 2010 at 12:50 pm | Reply
  18. Protogus

    Well Serpian,

    A form of innovation is being innovative at reproduction. Oh, and don't forget the Chinese have been inventing tons of stuff way back in the day when white men were trading goats to buy bread (I wanted to say toilet paper...but let's not kid ourselves, paper is a Chinese invention too!)

    These days the Chinese have invented an approach to technology, let geeky guys from Silicon Valley who can't pull any girls do all the inventing, and let themselves do all the money-making! Genius!

    December 15, 2010 at 1:01 pm | Reply
  19. John Babiar

    Just in case you don't know, Apple bought the ipad name and logo from a Chinese company that had unsuccessfully marketed their ipad way before Apple's ipad. Now go figure who copies who.

    December 15, 2010 at 1:47 pm | Reply
  20. xoolu

    china makes just about all US products anyway.. why cant they make knock offs and make a profit. I'm sure its better than getting paid 60 cents or even 1 dollar (US) an hour working for a major company.

    December 15, 2010 at 6:36 pm | Reply
  21. Daenu Kala

    How much CNN get pay for this idiot chinese pirates product. Scam and not work well. I don't get it. Weak up CNN.

    December 15, 2010 at 6:37 pm | Reply
  22. Alan Breton

    Boycott Chinese oppressors of freedom.

    December 15, 2010 at 6:56 pm | Reply
  23. YZ

    WOW, I'd like to go there.

    December 15, 2010 at 6:58 pm | Reply
  24. Lou

    I think it's pretty sad that we are giving the Chinese knock-off products free publicity on here.

    December 15, 2010 at 7:05 pm | Reply
  25. Chinesecaptialists

    Nothing to see here. Move along. Seriously? For those that don't know, any company (Chinese or otherwise) that does business in China and wants to patent something – HAS to patent it in China first.. why? So they can send those plans to those little sweatshops to produce it cheaper and well, cheaper. Both in price and quality.. this is China who will take over the world with their garbage products, garbage policies, and garbage history...

    December 15, 2010 at 7:06 pm | Reply
  26. Hahaha J

    Hey look Chen the spin artist, talking about the price of computers in the early 1990s when they were outrageously expensive due to having no market share. What a nice trick! Too bad we don't fall for it!

    December 15, 2010 at 8:40 pm | Reply
  27. Hahaha J

    abu, on the contrary, the only advantage they have is price not time to market. As well, there are quality issues to take into account. Just about everyone I know returns one smart phone under warrantee in the last year. All made in china. once you get one that works they're fine. But how much is the company losing each time they return them?

    It's a short sighted approach. They are cheap because you can buy 3 for the price of a quality one. That speaks to investors more than the long term success of having few returns.

    December 15, 2010 at 8:44 pm | Reply
  28. DanaH

    CNN: Hong Kong S.A.R., not Hong Kong, China!!!!!

    December 15, 2010 at 9:13 pm | Reply
  29. Not As Great As You Think

    @ Chen And The person that have written this article.

    China knock offs are just that "knock offs" that usually only last you a few months at the most. Yes they sell them on CCTV and they tell everyone they have all of these nice options which they do. But the workmanship is just not there of course. And the funny thing is that even the chinese don't like the knock offs they would prefer the real thing. So before you go running online and buying these cheaply made products remember that saying about a F__l and there money. They will have your money and you will have nothing.

    December 15, 2010 at 10:01 pm | Reply
  30. Rick McDaniel

    I have become totally opposed to anything with the label "Made in China".....authentic or fake.....so I wouldn't be interested, at any price.

    December 15, 2010 at 10:03 pm | Reply
  31. Kun

    interesting products, where can i buy those things in the US? ebay?//

    December 15, 2010 at 11:39 pm | Reply
  32. longandshort

    Actully just yesterday I was wathing breakng news on Chinese fakes flooding Asia and Europe. From exloding cell phone batteries to fake killer drugs to fake automotive parts including BMW engines.

    This is actually being encouraged by the government as it runs into several billions. I guess serves all the companies right who outsourced to china.

    December 16, 2010 at 12:19 am | Reply
  33. Paul

    Its not so much Anti-Shino reteric as is Anti-American on this sight and in the comments. The only reason for Anti-Americanism is cause were so good people have to hate.

    What the real problem here with this article is that the domestic Chinese market is largely closed to Americans. If there were equal trade in both the better of the products will win. But in general china has a very protectionist stand point.

    December 16, 2010 at 1:49 am | Reply
  34. Paul

    Also i can't wait for the current china to fail and become a democracy. I mean how can you support a country that continually threatens the world about their core interests, Invades pacifist country claiming its theirs and continues to no abide by international law.

    DOWN WITH CHINA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    December 16, 2010 at 1:55 am | Reply
  35. Brian

    Damien,

    Based on your logic, I assume you also think counterfeit pharmaceutical products and liquor are a natural victim of the economic forces you cite. Classy. You can't have a double standard for iPhones and antibiotics.

    The protection of intellectual property rights is a fundamental element of a market economy. Companies who develop and market products invest a considerable amount into the R&D, manufacturing processes, safety and security measures, marketing, etc. Counterfeiters by-pass all those steps, often to the determent of public health and economic vitality.

    If you are so concerned about China, you should realize the importance domestically developed products and services. Without sufficient IPR protection, there is no motivation to invest in innovation.

    December 16, 2010 at 3:02 am | Reply
  36. Joe

    The Chinese are communists and have no moral compass about ripping off capitalism or democracy. We must not blame American business for taking technology to China, as there are no American businesses. Business is global in the new world order. There are no borders and no regulations. This year's company Christmas party is in India... only a few insiders will make it to the party. The call center folks and tech support will be there, as usual... of course, they live there and were born there. Well, it's time to head down to Micky D's and get a "Happy Meal" before those lead paint Chinese toys get yanked from the shelves. The lawsuit might be frivolous, but the kids could actually win this one. Mom will still buy the greasy burger and fries for the kids, but won't have to shell out a dollar for the toxic toy. These are tough times! China loves us. We really are the land of the free. Free technology – free to take. Free trade. Free access to our markets.

    December 18, 2010 at 10:16 am | Reply
  37. percy alvarez

    excellent

    January 12, 2011 at 7:33 am | Reply

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