While research institute Strategy Analytics estimates Apple has shipped 4.5 million Apple Watches for the first three quarters of 2015 in China, in the same period, Tencent Tech reports shipments for other smartwatch brands has grown 510%.
The reason behind the massive growth in the sector is the large grey market for knockoffs and so-called “white label” (白牌) smartwatches, or watches made to order from nameless manufacturers. Industry website Zhidix.com reports many knockoffs are Apple Watch clones for sale on Taobao.
AllChinaTech spotted an example of the phenomenon listing for RMB 298 (USD 47) on Taobao with looks very similar to the Apple Watch. Not only was the Apple Watch clone dustproof and waterproof, it supported activity monitoring, third-party apps and even a SIM card, to allow users to use it as a mobile phone. At least ten merchants are selling similar products on Taobao and each merchant has sold a few hundred units, according to Zhidix.com.
The cost for a knockoff is merely a few hundred RMB which compares considerably well to the RMB 2588 (USD 407.6) charged for a basic Apple Watch.
It is also reported smartwatches for children are popular in China. Here is a breakdown of the sales for Chinese-branded children’s smartwatches for the third quarter 2015:
- Xiao Tiancai (210,000 – 22,000 units per month)
- Abardeen (70,000 – 160,000 units per month)
- Babywei (50,000 units per month)
- Teemo (40,000 units per month)
- WAAWO (30,000 units per month)
Industry website Zhidix.com provides the following 3 hypotheses as to why knockoff smartwatches are so popular in China.
- It’s easy to produce a knockoff smartwatch. There are many ready-to-go factory-designed smartwatches that can be used by simply applying adding a label before sale.
- The industry as a whole is still not very passionate about smartwatches in general. People prefer to buy knockoffs from Taobao and other e-commerce sites over the real thing. Some manufacturers even sell to low-end markets overseas.
- From a supplier perspective, there are technical barriers, including specialized computer chips and display modules that are needed to produce quality smartwatches.