As the zero day quickly approaches, we thought only a retrospective detailing some of the highlights -- and lowlights -- to come out of the always-colorful knockoff industry could encapsulate this whole new level of buzz the iPhone has brought to the mobile industry. Love 'em or hate 'em, credit has to be given to these guys for busting out an endless array of not-quite-iPhones in mere weeks after the world finally got a look at the real deal.
As it turns out, there are just so many real iPhone knockoffs we had to skip over most pre-iPhone photoshops / mockups, as well as those ubiquitous iPhone skins; if imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, the clownfish on the iPhone's wallpaper should be turning from orange to bright red right about now. Let's get started, shall we?
It's pretty rare -- nay, unprecedented -- for a phone to be so hotly anticipated that the knockoff industry is in full swing before the real thing's existence is even confirmed. This little gem showed up on our radar last December, looking like some sort of brokedown iPod mini prototype (that's pre-iPod nano for the kiddies out there). The so-called "I-MOBILE i-phone" features a tiny 1.8 inch touchscreen with handwriting recognition (i-phone 1, iPhone 0!) and a 2 megapixel camera, but the GSM 900 / 1800 radio leaves us wanting. We're glad we held out for the real deal.
Mere days before Apple's announcement we spotted this one. Reader reaction was actually quite positive -- and hey, what's there not to like? The screen's big, it appears to faithfully rip the iPod nano's styling, and with both Apple and Windows keys, you can think of this phone as the Switzerland of the tech world.
January 9, 2007; you know the rest. Tens upon tens of Chinese manufacturers set to work at producing The Next Insanely Great Knockoff. Boom.
It seems the knockoffs didn't come quite fast enough for some impatient souls. This, folks, is what you call desperation. Desperation to feel the joy of unwrapping years of Apple's deepest secrets; some might say desperation for human affection. We'll let you be the judge.
The fakes got worse before they got better. Though we saw this one in March, we suspect R&D (all eighteen hours of it) kicked off before Apple's announcement since there's absolutely zero resemblance to the real thing. In fact, we'd venture to say we see a little Sony Ericsson inspiration in the nav key layout. The makers undoubtedly walked away lawsuit-free on account of the modified Apple logo that looks only vaguely like the original.
Perhaps the company most brazenly and openly mimicking the iPhone's industrial design, Meizu appears to have every intention of going global with its miniOne line. After making a series of mid-coursecorrections (an effort to minimize attention from Apple, we'd wager), the miniOne M8 and M8 w could make a serious splash in the high-end market with a 667MHz core, 720 x 480 touchscreen, 3 megapixel cam, 3G data (on the M8 w model), and internal storage options ranging from 4GB to 16GB atop Windows Mobile 6. Is Meizu taking the Microsoft rivalry to Apple in a way that traditional current gen Windows Mobile devices can't? If all goes according to plan, we'll know before the year's out.
Deeda is an American company that swears up and down that its "Pi" phone is completely original and that it started development long before the iPhone was announced. Even if that's true, we sure can't be blamed for noticing a few rather glaring similarities. The 3.6-inch WVGA touchscreen and impossibly thin looking shell should keep this one out of production for a while -- if Apple's legal juggernaut doesn't do the job first.
At a glance, the CECT P168 (though we've heard the exact same device go by several names) may be the truest reproduction, and having made the rounds back in April in retail packaging, it's hard to not be impressed by the turnaround time. The software is another matter altogether -- but if you want something you can whip out of your pocket, wave around quickly, and have at least a few folks in the vicinity think you're sporting an iPhone, this is probably your ticket. The microSD slot and touchscreen are cool, but multi-touch? Not so much.
You may not like the iPhone's lack of a numeric keypad, but we don't think adding a nonstandard array of tiny buttons at the phone's bottom edge was the answer. Alas, the CECT IP2000 came into existence around the same time as the aforementioned P168, sporting what appears to be the same bogus software and a fairly similar shell. Again, there's obviously no similarity between the shiny logo on the rear and Apple's actual logo, so no harm, no foul! This one can actually be snagged over on M8COOL; the 3 megapixel cam is nice, but the lack of any US GSM bands is a bit of a wet blanket on that dream.
Yet one more from CECT, the IP9300, which you can also apparently grab from M8COOL. The innards appear to be identical to the IP2000 -- 3 megapixel cam, touchscreen, dual-band GSM radio. Like the real deal, CECT's wares lack 3G data, but these ones take another giant leap back in time by foregoing EDGE, too. (Hooray for 90s mobile data!) Our favorite part of the IP9300 might be the official-looking FCC certification and "2007 All Rights Reserved" -- right below the backwards Apple logo, of course.
Steve may not be ready to grace the world with an iPod that shares the iPhone's more notable attributes, but far be it from that to stop anyone else. ONDA and Ainol have thrown their hats into the phoneless-iPhone-clone ring with the Honey VX858 and V2000, respectively. These guys are taking full advantage of the screen real estate, too, offering up game console emulators, support for pretty much every video format imaginable, and in the case of the VX858, some sort of dual-core processor. Phone calls, though? Consider this one set to ignore.
And there you have it, a wondrous look at the inner workings of the ever-industrious knockoff community. Maybe the best part about it, though, is that we've got a feeling that we've only scratched the surface. Does Apple need to worry about lost market share? Nah, we doubt it. Oh, and a word to the gadget cloners out there: don't change a thing.