Counterfeiters are hungry for a slice of Apple’s $ 16 billion AirPod market

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Enlarge / These AirPods on display at the Apple Park Visitor Center in Cupertino are real – but telling the difference between real and fake electronics is not always easy.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection reports that it has seized approximately 360,000 wireless headphones, valued at an estimated $ 62.2 million, to date in fiscal year 2021. That’s only nine months of seizures – but it’s already more than the 290,000 sets worth $ 61.7 million that were seized during fiscal 2020.

In one such large seizure, CBP seized around 6,400 counterfeit AirPods and AirPods Pro on July 11 in Cincinnati, Ohio. If the seized goods had been genuine, their combined Apple MSRP would have been around $ 1.3 million – but the five seized shipments were reported for only $ 312 each. All five shipments were made to a single address in Brownsville, Texas.

On the other hand, the Feds may not always get it right. In September 2020, CBP in New York City confiscated a shipment of 2,000 pieces of perfectly legitimate OnePlus earbuds to Nevada, claiming they were “counterfeit AirPods”. When pressed about the bug, CBP doubled up, saying that a company “doesn’t need to put an ‘Apple’ word mark or design on its products” to violate trademark law, adding that importers “have many options … your product does not violate the corresponding registered trademarks. ”

Of course, not all counterfeiters target Apple – well-known brands like Sony, Jabra, Samsung, and Bose have their own knockoff artists. But despite its premium brand position, Apple holds the lion’s share of the wireless earbuds market. In 2020, Apple held 25% of the market share of “Smart Personal Audio” – almost three times the market share of Samsung, its closest competitor. That market share was nearly 109 million units – and sales of $ 16 billion or more, according to market analyst Canalys.


According to Craig Crosby of the Counterfeit Report, around 80% of the world’s counterfeit consumer goods come from China. In late 2016, Apple bought 100 products allegedly made by Apple on Amazon and found that 90% of them were counterfeit – even though they came directly from Amazon rather than third-party offerings. During the ensuing litigation, Amazon told Apple that the counterfeit products were being supplied by Mobile Star, despite the fact that Apple branding was widely used.

While some of the counterfeit goods are an obvious rip-off, some require physical disassembly and expert product knowledge to identify them. Reuse of stolen factory molds is common, and some counterfeit AirPods properly mimic the pairing process with iPhones and even display the correct Apple serial numbers.

Unfortunately, “similar appearance” does not mean “similar quality” – it is much more difficult to spot subpar audio drivers and amplifier circuitry than a slightly discolored or misshapen chassis. Consumers should also be concerned about safety; Amazon product reviews of counterfeit chargers often include stories of the counterfeit parts overheating, smoldering, or even completely burning up during normal use.

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