While it’s often said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, that’s not so true when it comes to counterfeit products made by companies trying to dupe consumers into opting for a knock-off instead of the real thing.
It’s one way in which popular brands become victims of their own success, and in the case of Apple, it’s the iconic AirPods that seem to be most frequently ripped off by second-rate companies looking to make a quick buck.
After all, it’s considerably harder to counterfeit an iPhone (although that hasn’t stopped companies from trying), so with the AirPods being both easier to knock off and overwhelmingly popular, they’re a much more lucrative business for counterfeiters.
In fact, it’s such a problem that US Customs is constantly on the guard for fake AirPods — to the point of often mistakenly seizing other legitimate products just because they bear a passing resemblance to Apple’s iconic white earbuds.
Despite those occasional missteps, however, customs officials still seize hundreds of thousands of actual fakes every year, and according to The Information, approximately 360,000 of those over the last nine months were products purporting to be AirPods.
According to US Customs officials, these products had a retail value of $62.2 million, and represented an increase from a mere $3.3 million worth of products in 2019.
What’s worse, however, is that these are only the products that customs officials actually manage to catch coming into the US, which means that they represent a fraction of the total number of counterfeits being made. Not only do some fakes still make it into the US, but of course, there are likely millions more being sold in other countries around the world.
As The Information adds, this could work out to as much as $3.2 billion this year alone in lost AirPods revenue for Apple.
Based on a 2016 estimate from the US Chamber of Commerce, seized counterfeit products represent only a paltry 2.5% of the world’s physical counterfeiting. If this statistic holds true for AirPods — and if anything, it’s probably even higher considering the desirability of Apple’s wireless earbuds — that suggests that there are almost 15,000,000 fake AirPods out in the wild.
Of course, like many estimates of lost revenue, the $3.2 billion could be a bit of a stretch, since it assumes that everyone who bought counterfeit AirPods would opt for the real thing if the knock-offs weren’t available.
Similar arguments have been made for years when it comes to things like software and music piracy, but these estimates always fail to factor in the number of people who are only using the products because they’re significantly cheaper, or even free.
To be clear, however, we’re only talking about actual counterfeit AirPods here — fake products that mislead buyers into thinking they’re legitimate AirPods. The estimates don’t include legitimate white earbuds that simply happen to look like AirPods.
Counterfeit AirPods fit into two general categories, with some designed to be so convincing that they can be sold at near-market prices, easily duping unsuspecting buyers into thinking that they’re getting a legitimate Apple product. However, others are sold at such low prices that it’s hard to imagine anybody buying them could believe that they’re getting real AirPods. Even so, however, somebody paying bargain-basement prices is far less likely to be in the market for the real thing.
In most cases, these fake AirPods offer basic Bluetooth headphone capabilities, which can easily fool buyers into thinking that they got a good deal. However, they almost never include any of the other advanced AirPods features, such as seamless pairing and “Hey Siri” support.
Even if they’re functional as Bluetooth headphones, however, fake products can pose serious safety risks. After all, companies that are unscrupulous enough to create knock-offs of products from other companies aren’t going to be especially diligent when it comes to things like regulatory certifications. While the most serious risk obviously comes from counterfeit chargers, even AirPods still include components like batteries that can leak or catch fire if they’re not properly made.
Fortunately, it’s not hard to avoid buying a counterfeit Apple product or accessory if you simply follow a few common-sense tips, the most important of which is to remember that deals that seem too good to be true almost always are.