Apple fanboys the world over are groaning with disappointment at the damp-squib announcement from Tim Cook overnight. Where they were expecting a next-generation iPhone 5 to be unveiled, they merely got an upgrade on the oh-so-last-year iPhone 4.

But over in China, where pirated DVDs of the latest Hollywood movies hit the streets even before the films are released worldwide, “the latest iPhone5” is on sale – at a throwaway price of just under $50. The only catch: as with many things about China, this one is decidedly a fake.

China’s official news agency Xinhua reports that authorities in Fuzhou in Fujian province in China’s southeast have seized fake iPhone 5s that were being sold in a mall in the city. Chinese media reports have it that in terms of design, finish and operating system, the phones appeared to be “90 percent genuine” – and were in fact labelled the “latest iPhone 5”.

Fake iphone's being sold at a mobile phone stall at Shanghai. Reuters

The phones even came embossed with Apple’s trademark logo, but the packaging bore no details of the manufacturer’s name or the serial number. According to Xinhua, the distributor of the fake iPhone 5 said the phones were manufactured in Shenzhen in southern China, considered the factory floor of the world.

Authorities in Fuzhou, however, said that although the iPhone 5 looked genuine, in terms of functionality, it showed up as being distinctly inferior. For instance, they said, the dual-SIM provision wasn’t entirely satisfactory; the touch screen response was very slow; and photographs taken on the low-res camera were pretty hazy.

In recent days, police in Shanghai have launched a crackdown on counterfeit iPhones assembled using recycled accessories. Earlier this week, five people were arrested on charges that they had scavenged genuine components from discarded iPhones and fused them along with fake components to patch together iPhone 5s that looked a lot like the real thing.

Ever since it was revealed that entire Apple stores had been faked in many Chinese cities, authorities have been on the defensive and making a show of cracking down on intellectual property rights violations.

iPhone 4S not a ‘vanity buy’

On the Chinese-language Internet, responses to the official launch of the iPhone 4S have been just as downbeat as they have been elsewhere. Among the most common criticism of the new model is that since it resembles the iPhone 4, it didn’t help as a ‘vanity purchase’.

“If I buy a 4S, how can I let people know that I’m using a 4S and not an iPhone 4?” wondered one commentator.

“If we can’t show off with it, what’s the point of buying one?… Vain people don’t care about features, they care about how it looks,” said another.

In any case, as Steve Millward observes on the tech blog Penn Olsen, there is little incentive for Chinese users to embrace the iPhone 4S. Millward lists five reasons – the most significant of them being that the voice-input feature Siri, which comes with the iPhone 4S, doesn’t support Chinese, which is the language that most Chinese are comfortable with.

Apple products are quite the rage in China, and there have been instances of completely over-the-top covetousness for iPhone products. For instance, a Chinese teenager kicked up quite a storm on the Chinese-language Twitter service recently when she offered to “sell her virginity” and sleep with anyone who would buy her an iPhone 4.

In another instance, a 17-year-old student recently sold his kidney in order to buy himself an iPad 2.

It appears that China will continue to yield to its temptation for Apple product – through fair means or foul.

Publish date: October 5, 2011 5:08 pm| Modified date: October 5, 2011 5:08 pm

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