Forms of flattery
Consumers and critics alike have frequently lauded Apple for its visually distinctive and influential designs since 1976. And its competitors have been watching: over the years, numerous companies wanting to borrow a bit of that Apple magic, simply cloned or imitated Apple's creations with varying degrees of success, both legally and financially. This trend especially holds true today due to the global influence of the iPod, iPhone, and iPad.
In this slideshow, take a look at some of the more blatant Apple knockoffs from the 1970s to the present—those products that obviously imitated or copied Apple's trade dress. At the end, you'll see why if imitation is the finest form of flattery, then Apple must be the most flattered company on earth.
The MEWA-48 (Apple II)
The astounding success of the Apple II (first released in 1977) inspired many microcomputer companies to directly copy Apple's designs. Here is one such model, a Taiwanese Apple II clone (owned by Patrick Schäfer, a German computer enthusiast). This clone closely copied the look and feel of the Apple II line but added lowercase support, a numeric keypad, and a handy macro function—all of which were lacking in the original Apple II.
[Photos: Patrick Schäfer]
Chia-ma SPS-109 (Apple II)
Here’s another Taiwanese Apple II clone that very closely copied the Apple II’s external appearance. In fact, it is likely that the manufacturer made direct molds of the Apple II chassis and used them as the basis for its machine.
Not all Apple II hardware clones were knockoffs, though; many shipped in custom cases with added features. And a few, like the Laser 128, even passed legal muster.
Unitron Mac 512 (Macintosh 512K)
Until 1993, the South American nation of Brazil didn’t allow the import of microcomputers, which prompted local companies to clone popular models from the US. One such company, Unitron, created a very successful line of Apple II clones in the early 1980s. After the launch of the Macintosh, Unitron set its sights on the GUI-based machine and began to reverse-engineer it. The firm only produced 500 units of the resulting machine before Apple cried foul and the Brazilian government forced the Unitron Mac 512 off the market.
[Photos: Unitron, Carlos Duarte]
eMachines eOne/Future Power E-Power (iMac G3)
Not too long after the iMac’s 1998 launch, two California-based companies dove right in and brazenly copied Apple’s culturally distinctive design. eMachines produced the eOne (upper left), and Future Power, in association with Daewoo, designed the E-Power (upper right).
Apple was none-too-pleased about either, and sued both manufacturers. A year later, Apple settled with both; eMachines redesigned the eOne, and the E-Power, blocked by a preliminary injunction since 1999, never made it to market.
[Photos: eMachines, Future Power, Apple]
Nextway D Cube NHD-150D (iPod)
After the iPod hit the mainstream around 2003, electronics firms around the world fired up their copy machines and got to work imitating Apple’s distinctive MP3 player. One early model from Korea, the Nextway NHD-150D, appeared to be a particularly close imitation of the iPod— complete with white enclosure, earbuds, touch wheel, and monochrome backlit screen. It would not be the last time someone copied the iPod design, much to Apple’s chagrin.
MP3/MP4 Digital Media Player (iPod touch)
This no-name iPod touch clone hit the market for about $70 in 2008, and it wasn’t alone. Literally dozens of different iPod touch clones have been introduced by Chinese hardware cloners since Apple introduced its first touch-based iPod in 2007 (the iPhone has received similar treatment).
Interestingly, this specimen seems to have imitated Apple’s OS as well as the hardware. The knockoff also included an integrated camera at a time when Apple did not offer one in the iPod touch.
5th Gen. Mp5 Nono Player (iPod nano)
This oddly-named digital music player showed up in the shady-goods marketplace shortly after Apple launched the 5th Generation iPod nano in 2009. It mixed the hardware of a nano—including a camera and an FM tuner—with the icon-based software of an iPhone and retailed for the unsurprisingly cheap price of about $55.
[Photo: Electronics Infoline]
Shenzhen Pandora HD Box MINI MAC (Mac Mini)
This Chinese Mac mini knockoff, first introduced in 2010, imitates the classic silver and white Mac mini enclosure with an added decorative purple flourish on top. It sports a 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Atom processor and was designed to run Windows, not OS X.
APad 7 (iPad)
It’s true: just about every tablet these days looks like an iPad. But some iPad clones go even further, blatantly copying Apple’s hardware, software, or both. In this case, the APad 7, a 7-inch imitation iPad running Android, simply “borrows” the look and feel of the iPad’s form factor and its packaging. This Chinese tablet, which packs 2GB of flash memory and an 800-by-480 screen, retails for about $99 in the back alleys of the Internet.
Shenzhen Rahway LAVI S21i (iMac)
Late last year, Apple proudly introduced its latest iMac revision—its thinnest iMac yet. Only a few months later, a Chinese company announced its own take on the most recent iMac, the LAVI S21i. The Windows-based machine closely mirrors both the thin form factor and the tech specs of the official Apple model, but predictably, it can be bought for far less.
As Apple continues to grow in influence, it’s likely that opportunistic companies will be imitating, cloning, and outright counterfeiting Apple products for decades to come.