December 15th, 2010
12:53 AM GMT
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Shanzhai (山寨) is such an awesome word.

It's Chinese slang to describe a range of pirated or imitation goods. But with a difference. Shanzhai products include cellphones, cameras, computers and laptops that try their darndest to look like the real deal.

But Chris Chang of MIC Gadget offers a more nuanced definition. He says, "if a device looks like the authentic iPhone at first sight, we call it an iPhone knockoff. If it doesn't, we just call it shanzhai."

In tech markets like Shenzhen's Huaqiangbei you can score shanzhai versions of everything from Sony PSP players to Nokia phones. But Apple's designs are the most copied, as they are the most coveted.

Chang, a 19-year-old student based in Hong Kong, came by the studio armed with a select array of charming and eyebrow-raising shanzhai gifts including the shanzhai iPad. At first glance, you can imediately tell it's smaller than the real thing. It also runs a rival operating system, Google's Android, and lacks a truly multi-touch screen. In fact, you have to use your fingernails to touch it. But the shanzhai version has a handy feature that Apple left out of its tablet - a micro SD card slot. It retails in China for $135.

Next up, the Magic Mouse Phone. It has absolutely no link to the iPhone and looks just like Apple's mouse. It's a $45 GSM-only handset styled after a much-loved peripheral. Consider it a charming nod to Apple's design savvy. Shanzhai as geek tribute.

And then Chang revealed the very buzzy Apple Peel. It's a skin that turns an Apple iPod Touch into a GSM-only iPhone. When fully charged, it provides 4.5 hours of call time and 120 hours of standby time. Price tag? $45.

It may be a clever hack, but you have to extremely clever to put it together. It took Chang more than two hours to assemble at his first go, and that after jailbreaking his iPhone.

And yet Chang is a big fan, as the Apple Peel showcases Made-in-China tech not as a shameless rip-off or even shanzhai tribute... but as a "magical" example of innovation.

But there is one more thing...

The S-J "iDoll" is designed by MIC Gadget. With black turtleneck, glasses, and New Balance sneakers... it is a remakarable likeness. MIC had 300 figures made and, at just under $80 a pop, they quickly sold out. But then Apple told them to stop immediately, for violating Apple's copyrights and trademarks.

A bit ironic, considering the blog's content. It is after all a celebration of all things shamelessly shanzhai.



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