Excitement about the Apple iPhone and similar high-end mobile phones has created a secondary market for less expensive Chinese knockoffs in the UAE.
Stores in Dubai’s central business districts of Deira and Bur Dubai are stocking up on the Chinese clones, which include imitations of other famous brands including Sony Ericsson and Nokia.
The number of phones imported into the country from China is unknown, but importers and shopkeepers said the demand for the knockoffs has been high and has created a boom for smaller mobile phone retailers.
“We ran out of our Chinese iPhones in the first week. We had imported 10 containers, each measuring 20 feet, and now we are planning to import more,” said Yu Chen, manager of Star Phones World, which distributes several brands of Chinese made phones.
“Most buyers are fascinated by a cheaper version of Apple’s popular iPhone,” added Chen.
The iPhone clones available in the UAE come in three different brands and are around six times cheaper than the original Apple product, which has yet to be officially launched in the UAE but can be found in some shops. A Desay N8, which is very similar to an iPhone in physical appearance and features, goes for Dh500 compared to Dh3,000 for the Apple version.
Other phones that are designed to look like the iPhone include the M888, ip2000 and A380. There are also several clones for the new Nokia phones such at the E90 Nokia communicator, the N95, N93 and N70.
While the Chinese imitations are very similar in appearance to the genuine brands, with touch screens and high-resolution cameras, none of them have Wi-Fi for wireless internet and GPS, which are popular functions in most of the latest mobiles.
They do, however, have a number of extra features that appeal to buyers, such as double SIM card slots and TV functions.
Suresh N, owner of Bahar Enterprises, a phone retail and wholesale store in Deira, said sales have gone up by 20 per cent since he started selling the imported Chinese phones early this month.
“The demand for the Chinese phones is high compared to other types of phones. We have decided to replace our stock with only Chinese phones because that is where the money is right now,” said Suresh.
He added that his company’s monthly turnover had risen from an estimated Dh140,000 to about Dh160,000 so far this month with the Chinese phones flying off the shelves. According to Suresh, the Chinese phones are also being reexported from the UAE to developing countries in Africa and Asia.
Hanan Mada, a 32-year-old receptionist in Dubai, said she was among the first people to buy an iPhone clone when it came onto the market. “I have always wanted to own an iPhone but the price was just too much for me. I am happy with a Chinese version because it has all the features I need.”
Besides producing replica versions of existing popular brands, Chinese mobile phone manufacturers have come up with their own concept phones. Some of the popular new Chinese phones currently on sale in Dubai, such as the DV007 and DCS1800, feature a TV function that allows users to watch any free to air television channel in their areas of use. Another popular model, the M800, is a wristwatch and a phone, with a 1.3 mega pixel camera and features such as an MP3 player, GPRS, FM radio, Bluetooth, memory card slot and 60MB internal memory.
Meanwhile, retailers of the genuine products did not seem worried by the competition. A manager at an electronics retail store in Dubai that sells Apple-manufactured iPhones predicted the invasion of the cheaper Chinese phones would not affect sales of original due to the difference in quality.
“A cheap item will always be cheap. Our customers are people who look for quality and they know that Chinese clones do not represent quality,” said the manager who did not want to be named.
He added the Chinese iPhones have helped to promote the iPhone concept and may even push sales higher.
Official distributors of genuine Sony Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung brands at Axiom Telecom and Cellucom also agreed that imitations would not affect their sales. “Many people trust us because we provide warranties on our products unlike retailers for the cheap Chinese clones,” said Shihab Kamal, a retail manager at Axiom Telecoms in Deira.
Officials from Arab Business Machine (ABM), the official distributors of Apple iPhones in the UAE, declined to comment.
- Chinese iPhone: Dh500
- Original iPhone: Dh3,000
- Chinese Nokia E90: Dh480
- Original Nokia E90: Dh3,300
- Chinese Nokia N95: Dh440
- Original Nokia N95: Dh2,700