Apple's iPad has won rave early reviews but its US launch on Saturday is not welcome news for the Chinese maker of a similar-looking device that has already been on sale for nearly eight months.
Wu Xiaolong, the general manager of Shenzhen Great Loong Brother Industrial Co said the company had already lost a major order for its iPad-like touchscreen "P88", which was launched in August, months before Apple's product.
"Our products are more expensive than theirs. There had been a Canadian university planning to buy our tablet PCs for their students, but they cancelled the order to shift to the iPad," Wu told AFP.
The company made headlines in January when it suggested Apple's iPad looked like a copy of the P88, which was on show last year at the Internationale Funkausstellung consumer electronics fair in Berlin.
Wu declined to give sales figures for the P88, which sells for about 569 dollars -- compared to the iPad's 499-dollar entry-level price -- but said the company in southern China was producing 3,000 units a day.
"We sold to a number of overseas markets in Europe and North America, including Germany, the UK, France and Canada. We also have distributors in many provinces in China, including Shanghai," he said.
However, there was no sign of the P88 or other iPad clones at the four-floor CyberMart in downtown Shanghai on Friday, although plenty of cloned iPods and other products were on display.
Apple has yet to announce a launch date for the iPad in China, but Huang Ting, who operates one of CyberMart's more than 100 stalls, said confidently that she expected to be selling the devices around April 10.
"We have to send someone to line up and buy them in the US and then bring them back to China. The 16GB iPad will sell for around 5,000 yuan (730 dollars," she said from behind a counter showcasing rows of iPhones and iPods.
Eager customers were paying a 500-yuan deposit, she said.
"We already have quite a few bookings," Huang said.
China's grey market for Apple products developed to meet demand from consumers eager to get their hands on iPhones, which officially only went on sale in China in October -- more than two years after it was launched in the United States.
In the meantime, 1.5 million smuggled iPhones flooded into the world's biggest mobile market before Apple reached an agreement with a Chinese network operator.
Apple China officials did not immediately respond to queries on Friday.
A search for iPad on Taobao.com -- China's answer to eBay, turned up 1,600 adverts, mostly from vendors offering to ship the tablet computer from the United States.
But many on the e-commerce site were also selling iPad clones and look-alikes, including the P88.
One site compared the iPad and the P88's specifications side-by-side.
Although thicker and heavier than the iPad, the P88 boasts a slightly larger screen, faster processor, larger memory and, unlike the iPad, has USB ports and a video camera. Other iPad competitors have added features such as global positioning service, or GPS.
Apple hopes its device will carve out a niche between smartphones and laptop computers.
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