Is Apple employing pirate-busting tactics?

The company is reportedly developing a cheap-as-chips version of the iPhone4 for the Chinese market - which could be its way of beating the bootleggers...

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 25 Aug 2011
Ahoy, me hearties – hop aboard the good ship Apple and hoist the sails, for it be (reportedly) steerin’ a course for the seas of China in a bid to rescue its beloved (aka the iPhone 4) from the deathly grip of the dastardly Cap’n Bootleg. Well – sort of. There are certainly rumours that Apple has begun development of a brand new cut-price iPhone 4, which it hopes will conquer the hearts of Chinese smartphone enthusiasts as easily as it has done over here. But it’s not going to be an easy fight: Chinese producers are experts at producing knock-offs, as Apple has already discovered. Arr.

Apple is notoriously secretive about products it has in the pipeline, so we’ve got nuthin’ but hearsay (as they probably say on the high seas) to go on. But if reports are accurate, the new iPhone 4 will have an 8Gb flash drive (they’re currently only available in 16GB or 32GB), and will be aimed at the burgeoning middle classes in China, who are as enamoured by Apple’s shiny objects as the rest of the world – but still tend to be more inclined toward the lower end of the smartphone market.

Some analysts are sceptical about how easy it’ll be to lower the cost of the phone, though: as Bonnie Chang, of Yuanta Securities, pointed out: ‘I think for an 8GB iPhone 4 the price is hard to go below $200, so Apple will still need a completely new phone with low specifications for the emerging markets.’ By all accounts, it’s the sort of challenge Apple has peeled itself (sorry) for, though. Back in July, COO Tim Cook (who is keeping an eye on things while CEO Steve Jobs is on sick leave), said the company sees an ‘incredible opportunity’ in China.

The trouble, though, is that where a premium brand like Apple leads, Chinese manufacturers make no bones about following – pretty much to the letter. In fact, there are few better examples than the fake Apple Store discovered in Kunming city, where the products and interior design were so accurate that even the staff thought they were working for Apple. So even if Apple can come up with a cheap’n’cheerful version of the iPhone, there’s no guarantee that the pirates won’t come up with an even cheaper version of their own.

The challenge, then, is to persuade the iPhone-buying public that the real thing is better than a knock-off. Although that’ll probably be more straightforward for Apple than it would be for, say, Dell. Not many brands breed slavish fanboy-dom quite like Apple…

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