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The Apple iPhone 6s and 6s Plus are due to hit shops on 25 September, but counterfeits are already on sale behind closed doors in southern China. The shops inside a bustling technology mall in the southern Shenzhen city do not openly display fake iPhones at their counters, but will go and fetch them from deep in their inventory.
Priced at CN¥580 (£59, $91), a tenth of the price of a real phone, the gold-coloured counterfeit appears authentic, complete with the letter "s" engraved on the rear. The sellers said it runs on the Android system even though its display appears similar to iOS. But it is slow for a new phone and the photos it takes appear fuzzy.
The sellers, who refused to talk on camera, also described their sales as mediocre, having sold fewer than 100 units since they arrived less than a week ago. Some Chinese consumers, such as 22-year-old Zheng Zhuangjian who works as a wholesaler of Apple products and is using an iPhone 6, said they would not buy counterfeits.
"I think if some people are short on money and want a 6s, then maybe they'll consider buying a fake phone. After all, it's appearance is 99.9% similar to a 6s. So it depends on the buyers. But I won't buy it. If you support fake goods, it means you're hurting the real ones," Zheng said.
Outside the mall, over 30 stores along a 1km stretch of shops carry Apple's giant white logo. But Apple only has one official store in Shenzhen and five authorized dealers in that shopping area. With signs that read "authorized Apple resellers", some of these stores resemble Apple's signature white outlets, with clerks wearing blue uniforms and wooden tables displaying an array of Apple product dummies from the iPad to the iWatch. A local resident, 40-year-old Mark Li, said the Apple logo still draws the younger crowds.
"Many people, especially people in their 20s and 30s, really like Apple. The Apple logo attracts them. When they see a shop sells Apple (products), they will go inside the shop, and if they don't sell Apple maybe they won't go inside. Even if the shop doesn't sell real Apple products, they think getting a pirated or refurbished one is not bad either. They think they have face [status]. Face is very important for many people," Li said.
Store clerks and phone vendors say these shops often resell genuine iPhones, sourced from official channels in China and overseas markets such as Hong Kong and the United States, to consumers who can't wait for weeks for their new gadgets to arrive. Several shops charge almost double the official price tag for consumers who want to get the latest iPhone models as early as this Friday (September 25).
Buyers who pre-order an iPhone 6s or 6s Plus at Apple's official website in China will need to wait for three to four weeks, whereas those buying an iPhone 6s will need to queue for one to two weeks, according to the site.