Knockoff iPads may proliferate during the year-end holiday season, as shoppers beset by the economic slump go hunting for bargains. That is creating more competition for Apple, even if many consumers only buy the tablets because they believe they're getting the real thing. Apple's advantage is its software is hard to replicate, said Francis Sideco, an analyst at the research firm IHS Inc.
"You can only copy to a certain degree," he said. For instance, knockoff tablets may not connect to Apple's iTunes and App Store. "It's not necessarily about hardware but the software, and it's very difficult to copy that," Sideco said.
Trudy Muller, an Apple spokeswoman, declined to comment.
Apple released the iPad in April 2010, and it quickly emerged as the company's No. 2 product category behind the iPhone. The tablet generated $6.9 billion for Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple last quarter, out of a total of $28.3 billion.
The device has attracted scads of legitimate competitors, with many manufacturers using Google Inc.'s Android software. Amazon.com Inc. also is jumping into the market this holiday season. It will release its $199 Kindle Fire tablet later this month, aiming to undercut the iPad, which starts at $499.
Counterfeiters are increasingly focusing on mobile technology after years of copying pharmaceuticals, handbags, software, and other products. Tablets are obvious targets because they are the most-desired technology gifts this holiday season - beating out laptops, televisions, e-readers, and video-game consoles, according to the Consumer Electronics Association.
To avoid getting cheated, shoppers should stick with retail sites they know, Felman said. A dramatically low price is another red flag, he said. The clone tablets in MarkMonitor's survey were typically 69 percent less than the retail price of the genuine item.
Higher prices, meanwhile, often can signal that shoppers are dealing with gray-market goods - genuine tablets that haven't been authorized for sale in a given country.