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Review: A Counterfeit, $100 iPhone X (vice.com)
152 points by kharms 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 72 comments

>For one, the sensor bar at the top that creates the dreaded “notch” doesn’t exist on this phone. Instead, the notch has been lovingly recreated in software.

Ok that's actually kinda adorable.

The software differences are amusing as someone had to just take a shot and put out a sort of MVP of some of these features... or just do something else.

>The “Podcasts” app just opens YouTube.

>Apple Maps opens Google Maps.

Close enough!

The backdoors are interesting as... does anyone want to hack someone who buys a $100 iPhone, I guess so?

"The backdoors are interesting as... does anyone want to hack someone who buys a $100 iPhone, I guess so?"

Having a backdoor on a mobile device means having a backdoor to any intranet that device connects to. A lot of people keep everything accessible on their local intranets: files, printers etc. If you get your compromised phone into your lawyer's office and he/she lets you use their unsecured intranet to get on the internet, chances are that then their network becomes compromised as well.

Presumably some end customer may pay close to iPhone X prices for the counterfeit version. And regardless, when they logon, their Apple ID and password can be harvested.

Exactly, which I presume is also why so much attention was paid to the "onboarding" app.

The device doesn't need to fool the user very long to be effective - just long enough to get them to buy it, and long enough to log in to their iCloud account. Those are the two big points where value is extracted.

> It said “Face Added,” and closed. I was then able to unlock the phone with my face. So was literally anyone else who put their face in front of the phone.

Not hotdog.

> Several of the stock fake Apple apps such as Compass, Stocks, Clock ask for “invasive permissions,” such as reading text messages. It’s unclear if this is a sign that the developers were mediocre or malicious, Evans wrote.

> “The mismash of default apps preinstalled on the phone I was given are horribly insecure (if not outright malware),”

In short a modern smartphone.

It's amazing how good it looks and yet is so cheap. Apart from the display and Face ID, I wonder how much it would cost to source used iPhone parts, perhaps even older version (iPhone 6 etc) and build out the internals for this phone.

Also, I'm curious, but if anyone has any insight, is this even profitable at $100 for them or is there a some sort of loss leading play for data behind such counterfeits.

You may enjoy this video where a guy goes to Shenzen and tries to build an iPhone 6s from parts. He claims it cost $300. Technically he spent a little over $600 because he broke a lot of parts and bought the wrong parts in the process, but if everything went perfectly it would be about $300. I think this was created back when the 6s was the current model.

$300 claim https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-KucQDXnKws

build video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=leFuF-zoVzA

I find it funny that this is a bit like the clockmaker hobbyist of 2010

I love stuff like this, but I think he left out a fairly important number: the amount of time he spent making it, and the $ value he'd put on that time.

When making a single phone, this effort counts (assume $20K). Once he is ready for mass production, then this effort is negligible (divide the $20K among 100K phones) .

Ye-es... but I'd argue that's not the proposition of the video. The claim is "I made an iPhone for $300", but the reality id more like "I made an iPhone for $300 of useful spend, $700 of wasted spend and $20,000 worth of my time".

The watcher might be tempted to take away "I can make an iPhone for $300," but actually it's more like "I can make an iPhone for $300 and ~$5,000 of my time".

Obviously the "$5,000 worth of my time" is actually the fun part fro some viewers. If you're the right kind of maker it might even be worth $5,000 to you.

I assume that most people asking this question of how much it costs to make an iPhone are asking in the context of a hobby project. In the context of a hobby project, at least for me, the time spent doing something I enjoy is a benefit, not a cost.

This was fascinating, makes me want to actually try and build a frankenstein phone. Thank you for posting!

It’s profitable when you don’t use Western electronic components und take parts designed for earlier generation phones. They are there, nobody wants them so you can get them cheaply. Just googled for cheap android phones and there are plenty models you can get <100$. Like Xiaomi Redmi 5A. There are many many noname devices for <70$.

As if Apple uses any components made in the West...

The only special thing is the design (also of the CPU) and the software.

They do use brand name components which are quite a bit more expensive than Chinese no-name ones.

I used to have an Android phone from WalMart that cost $40. It was a piece of junk, but apparently proof that you can manufacture a crappy smartphone for next to nothing.

Kind of surprised by the amount of hardware and software engineering talent that went into creating this counterfeit.

Is it really so lucrative that it beats applying those same talents at a real job?

Not sure what you mean by “real job” but I’d guess it works out.

The average software developer salary in China seems to be about 15,000USD a year (Glassdoor). I don’t think this is a years work.

But I’m curious as to how the work is funded. These ROMs get shared pretty liberally. So I’d guess once the work is done you have a limited amount of time to exploit it exclusively.

Why do you assume this isn’t a real job (ie paid the rent and fed their family) for the people who worked on it? And why do you assume that the people who worked on it have access to what you consider a “real job”?

Instead of counterfeiting, and operating beyond the boundaries of well understood legalities, while deceiving users, and engaging in sketchy malicious software practices, what if they were more well behaved?

What if they didn't create an obvious attempt to create a direct knock-off of the latest iPhone? What if they created a comparable device to stand on its own? What if they clearly labeled everything that the phone was really doing? What if they weren't scraping every interaction he user has with the device?

What if they took all of that deceptive effort, and poured it into producing a device that could be trusted, and took all of those efforts to deceive, and instead poured that creativity into improving the fundamental device they wished to create?

What if they made something they could put their names on, without inviting all the consequences that their dubious behavior would surely result in, if we knew who was behind this sort of thing?

What if they could admit to what they were doing, because it sought to benefit their patrons, instead of posing obvious risks to anybody spending $100 on their stuff?

Legalities may be dependent on the country of origin and honestly, most of the engineers may not even be aware that they're deceiving anyone, just trying to copy a device at low cost.

Most businesses do something that's identical to work done elsewhere. Many, many, many companies exist whose main line of business is to take a successful product and clone it cheaply for a market that can't afford the "authentic, professional" version. That is a perfectly normal, legitimate business.

I'm willing to bet that most of the engineers who did this phone never thought they were doing anything wrong. In fact, the "information should be free" arguments that many posters use on this site could be used to justify exactly the production of this phone!

IP protection gets interesting when it protects something you actually care about...

Then they would have just another generic Android phone in a sea of generic Android phones

What if they had access to the IP that is currently locked away by the likes of Apple/Google? What if anyone who wanted to replicate a good design (and improve upon it) were able to do so without restrictions, or fear of lawsuits? Conversely, what if what we treat as the sacrosanct right to make profits over a one-time invention (as if noone else could ever come up with a similar idea on their own - while history has repeatedly shown otherwise) was applied throughout history? Would even railways / electricity / simple things we take for granted now - have been so widespread? Maybe we would be flying in counterfeit airplanes.

>What if they had access to the IP that is currently locked away by the likes of Apple/Google? What if anyone who wanted to replicate a good design (and improve upon it) were able to do so without restrictions, or fear of lawsuits?

Then nobody would invest any money in releasing stuff and we would still live in the stone age.

Here's an interesting article about 19th century Germany when no copyright laws existed yet:

The Real Reason for Germany's Industrial Expansion?

Did Germany experience rapid industrial expansion in the 19th century due to an absence of copyright law? A German historian argues that the massive proliferation of books, and thus knowledge, laid the foundation for the country's industrial might.

Found at http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/no-copyright-l...

Or maybe they'd move to offering services, like with software?

Pretty much everyone is doing that, I think it makes sense to find a niche. Not that I support this one.

> They assumed that the device was likely insecure, and kept it in a faraday bag, which blocks all incoming and outgoing wireless signals, to keep it from potentially causing any trouble at their office.

What sort of "trouble" are they talking about here?

Potentially it acts as a relay circumventing any local firewalls.

None, they are doing it just for the show; understand that they probably did this analysis for free, so in exchange, they get this ad/article where they have to look very professional and methodical.

From the article's conclusion:

> So maybe this phone isn’t Apple’s iPhone X, but it is an iPhone X.

Ridiculous. If the phone can't run iOS apps (arm64 binaries compiled for Darwin+UIKit) it's not even close. What a racket.

Yeah. Products like this have been around ever since the first iPhone. I’m not sure what’s the big deal about this particular one. Click bait?

I think they did a fine (and entertaining) job of going deep in reviewing it with extreme detail.

iPhones has become status symbols, at least in some socio-economic groups. In this sense the functionality is not important - all that matters is the logo on the back and visual appearance of the home screen. If it can make people around you think that you have an iPhone, it's as useful as the real thing.

You ain't fooling anyone with those green bubbles.

Their (money-making) genius is also the redesign with every new version. Now that the X has a notch, some people with iPhone 7's will think "Oh, that person's iPhone has a notch, mine doesn't, I feel inferior."...

If some shady Asian company can build these for under $100, then why don't we have a decent open-source phone yet?

Cause throwing together a half-baked Android phone using the aged fork of Android that Mediatek provides, plus a few sketchy APKs with no comments or source is much easier than properly mainlining said fork of Android, then shipping a phone based on it.

Turns out, making the software to do cool stuff is most of the cost of building new products.

And on the desktop everything is easier?


With your average Intel desktop almost everything is in the Linux kernel, you don't have cellular, and you use UEFI or BIOS to boot.

With your average Android phone, you are lucky if you have kernel code. This does not include drivers for most things, and the code is of such quality that even when manufacturers try to update the kernel version they are having too much trouble.

It's arguably the same. For Linux also people need to write the driver code and mainline it. It's just that someone does it for most desktop parts we would consider buying, but nobody does it for semi shady Taiwan hardware which is mostly sold in China's countryside and Africa.

Linux on the desktop isn't exactly the kind of no-nonsense experience that you want from a smartphone.

Because there is a lot of people(in 3rd world and Asian countries mostly) willing to pay for a fake iphone. Outside of hacker circles, there is very very few people willing to pay for an open source phone.

But you could have said the same a few decades ago about the desktop ...

It's the money, not the acceptability

Drivers for the most part...

> We disassembled the phone and asked security researchers to probe it to find out what it is. Verdict: It's wild.

I could have used a better summary. Now I had to read half the article anyway.

Having seen a lot of these, I knew before clicking that it would be:

a) android skinned to look like ios

b) based on a mediatek reference chipset/rf baseband platform

c) riddled with buggy apps with huge security vulnerabilities

basically if you go to dealextreme, aliexpress, dhgate or a similar website. search for android phones, find things that cost right around $70-100, they'll all be very similar.

The more amazing part to me is that they actually bothered to duplicate a lightning port rather than use microusb or usb-c for charging.

Would they be good if you flashed a custom ROM on it?

Not really, the MT6580 is so old it's practically dinosaur aged. 1GB of RAM is bad, and 8 GB of storage is also pretty bad, give that it's split into 4 GB for /system and 4 GB for /data. You could port a ROM for it, but there are no kernel sources usually, and it's incredibly difficult to find any documentation on the chipset and ROMs are practically non-existent. Even some cheaper Qualcomm chipset phones don't have ROMs available, like Alcatel phones, Nokia, etc., so if you manage to find a ROM, flash it and try it, but beware of spyware if you didn't compile everything yourself.

This reminded me of a time back in the early 2000's when I tried to skin Windows to look like a OSX. I downloaded tons of stuff (themes, plugins, etc...) to modify Windows to give it that Aqua look. I was able to get close to the look, but the experience was clearly different. It's quite amazing to see how much work went into skinning Android to look like iOS.

When the product literally becomes a piece of glass with a matte back on it... branding (and counterfeiting) will become a big problem faster than any of these companies are preparing for, I suspect.

I suspect the target of the fraud here isn't the buyer, it's the people who will see the buyer using it. I live in Thailand, and there's a _huge_ premium placed on Apple and Samsung phone by people who can barely afford them.

If you've ever wondered where your prehistoric iPhone 4 ended up, some Thai teenager is lovingly using it (with the software home button, because this is Asia).

> (with the software home button, because this is Asia)


Had to google it.

"It's because of the fear that the home button may be broken. iPhones are not cheap in China so people take care of them while using. Several years ago people began to complain about their home button being easily broken and it has somehow been a widely recognized truth, so even the home buttons are not that easy to be broken, they tend to use AssistiveTouch instead. When you buy an iPhone in China the salesman would automatically turn on this function while helping you to do the settings. I myself have not experienced a broken home button during 4 years with my iPhone 4; however, I did have a broken sleep button from my 3rd year, which proved that the rumours are, in some way, true. So I turned on AssistiveTouch..."

source: http://uk.businessinsider.com/chinese-use-assistivetouch-on-...

I've had to do that to almost every iPhone I've used except the previous 6 I had.

I'm not sure why I went through them quickly. I started to use the software home button right away on the 6 and it's still kickin. The 6 Plus I didn't do it to misses a click every so often.

I’m not so sure. As noted in the article, key iOS features were basically nonfunctional or nonexistent. My impression is that most users would detect this device to be fraudulent quite quickly.

Do you mean that the increased availability of these fakes could tarnish Apple’s brand? I suppose we’d wind up in a situation where folks can only buy Apple devices from Apple authorized dealers. “Exclusivity” seems already thoroughly baked into Apple’s brand so I’m not sure this would actually hurt them. Is this not how it already is?

> I’m not so sure. As noted in the article, key iOS features were basically nonfunctional or nonexistent. My impression is that most users would detect this device to be fraudulent quite quickly.

In most wealthy countries for sure. However the target market for these devices might be different countries, where Apple products are not that common and well known. Or where people don't care that much, because "looks like Apple" is still better than the alternatives.

Agree, the danger is much higher in non-developed Markets.

>I’m not so sure. As noted in the article, key iOS features were basically nonfunctional or nonexistent.

My friend bought a fake Rolex watch.

He knew it wasn't real gold, and that half of the complications did not operate, but he still bought it and wore it.

There are enough people out there these days that see brands as style trends imho and will do anything to "rock" them.

I once worked with someone who did that. A colleague pointed out that it would be doubly unfortunate to get mugged for a fake Rolex watch. A discussion ensued over which would be the worse alternative.

Wasn't the main purpose of Rolex a conversion to cash quickly anywhere in the world when one is escaping the authorities that already managed to block bank accounts etc.?

It's a purpose, yes.

My takeaway is that most buyers would enter at least their Apple/iCloud credentials and wifi passwords.

Yeah that’s definitely true. I suppose that’s also the first thing you’re prompted to do, and by the time you’d discover the device is a fake it’s too late.

It doesn't have a notch. This makes it better than the real iPhone. Too bad they added a software one.

>Too bad they added a software one.

I kinda like it if only because it is absurd.

It makes me wonder if we could make an all screen, every surface phone, and then as styles change the "look" of the phone would change.

"Bezels are back with the latest software update!"

I think this product would be aimed for children - just like you can buy toy car, toy kitchen or toy furniture, there is toy Apple iPhone for kid to get familiar with what adults are supposed to use.

100$ buys you a really nice Android phone.

For small values of "really nice", that is. A state-of-the-art Samsung or Pixel phone is much closer to USD 1000 that USD 100 these days.

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