August 3, 2011

This Apple falls far from its tree

Back in February, I was laying poolside at a hotel in Kota Kinabalu happily listening to my beautiful little purple iPod Shuffle. Two hours later, my Shuffle disappeared... Meaning, I was irresponsible with it and the tiny little guy never made it back into my purse before we checked out of our hotel.

I was upset my music box was gone. The Shuffle was a couple of years old and is Apple's cheapest mp3 player -- it's also the most convenient for the gym and airplanes. Mine stored around 100 songs and had a battery life of nearly 24 hours. At only one square inch, it easily clipped on my shirt during a workout and could be slid into my wallet while traveling. But somewhere along the equator, I lost it and some lucky Malaysian is listening to my music. Right now.

As an anecdote, my friend and travel companion Jenn, surprised me with a Chinese-made Shuffle once we returned to Hangzhou. It was lime green and had the same buttons as my real Shuffle, but it was oriented vertically instead of horizontally. The packaging was simple and very Apple-like and it promised it was designed in California. I think it cost her 50RMB, or about $7.70. 

When I plugged its USB into my computer (which is an Apple), nothing happened. It didn't respond. Of course, the instructions promised it would work seamlessly with Macs, but very few Chinese tech gadgets (especially knockoffs) are Mac-friendly. 

Jenn's sweet gesture was a true example of "it's the thought that counts," but in China the fakes couldn't always be counted on. I saw knockoffs of everything from gadgets to handbags that looked legit, and I saw other fakes that were clearly...fake. This practice translates from everything to a product or a recipe all the way up to entire stores and chains of stores opening up blatantly as copy cats.

That's why it came as no surprise to me a few days ago when I found news stories about a fake Apple store in Kunming, China. Granted, this one is a bit more elaborate than most with employee uniforms and ID tags, but I can't tell you how many Apple stores were in my city that had no official affiliation with Apple. I think the only two legit Apple stores in China are in Beijing and Shanghai, and even those cities are filled with dozens of impostor stores.

In Chinese business, if someone has a good idea that becomes popular, it's only logical that people copy the original business so more people can become successful. "Intellectual property" is lost in cultural translation. For example, the brand Lacoste has a crocodile as its logo on clothing. Since the brand is expensive and seen as high class, there are copies in China, most notably "Cliocoddle," which has a number of stores in Shanghai and Hangzhou located in nice shopping areas. Then there is the store with no name, just a big green croc that looks just like the ones on Lacoste's polos.

Here's another example, I noticed a lot of stores that were called "5 cm," "7 cm," and "9 cm," in Hangzhou. Apparently one of those is a very popular and legitimate Korean clothing store chain. Which one? I have no idea. It all looked as though they sold the same stuff, but two of the three are Chinese copies.

I guess the same thing sort of happens in the US too. I mean, look at how many coffee shop chains started popping up after Starbucks' success. Then there are diet crazes that spark serious grocery store trends. And cupcake boutiques are popping up in cute neighborhoods all across the country. 

If only the Chinese would add an ounce or two of creativity so it was a little less obvious they were copying someone else... I guess you can't knock them for their blatant honesty about using someone else's idea to earn their own fortune.

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