Chinese smartwatch makers say clock ticking for Apple

Chinese smartwatch makers say clock ticking for Apple

SHENZHEN, China - The Apple Watch goes on sale on April 24 but Chinese factories are already churning out cheaper alternatives, to the delight of local consumers.

"Our product has all the functions Apple Watch has, and even surpasses them," said Zheng Yi, founder of a firm whose electronic watches can make phone calls, browse the Internet and play movies.

His profits may lag behind the US tech giant, but Zheng told AFP he "started working on smart watches eight years ago, long before before Apple".

Apple has been hugely successful in China and industry analysts expect its new "smartwatch" will be a hit with status-conscious consumers in the world's most populous country.

But it is priced from 2,588 yuan (S$561.32), and Chinese alternatives cost only about a sixth as much wholesale.

"The Apple Watch is quite beautiful... but we are more rapid in delivering product, and much cheaper," said Zheng - who welcomes the Californian firm's entry into the market as "absolutely a good thing" that will raise customer awareness.

At a production line in the manufacturing hub of Shenzhen, workers in blue shirts and flip-flops soldered, glued, and screwed the watches together, dropping them onto a conveyor belt after each step.

A staff of around 100 can produce 2,000 smartwatches each day, helping Zheng's firm Shenzhen YQT Electronics sell more than 50,000 units a month, he said.

In contrast, some analysts estimate Apple has already had several million orders worldwide for its watch, with the first retail consumers set to receive their products on April 24.

Knock-off versions - with similar touchscreen displays and icons indicating e-mail and phone functions - already fill display cases at an electronics market in Shenzhen's Huaqiangbei district.

"Would you like an Apple Watch?" one vendor asked, before quickly admitting that the product was an unbranded local imitation.

The Chinese wrist-bound offerings differ from Apple's - most use SIM cards and essentially function like phones, while the Apple Watch depends on an iPhone for many of its functions.

A saleswoman, Beryl, who sold smartwatches in a rainbow of colours said: "We have had a lot more interest since Apple announced its watch. Sales are good."

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