SHENZHEN/HONG KONG (Reuters) - Lining the glass display cases of Shenzhen's giant tech malls, knock-off versions of Apple Inc's smartwatch were on sale at many stalls, with some Chinese consumers eager to snap them up for a fraction of the cost of the original.
"It came on sale in mid-March and has been constantly out of stock," said one imitation Apple Watch seller who declined to give his name. "On average we sell around 40 a day. Some customers just came and bought five or more at a time."
The mimic Watches, built on Google Inc's operating system, don't need a separate smartphone to work, said one merchant. At her store, one was retailing for 360 yuan ($58) - around one eighth of the cost of Apple's cheaper Watch models.
One version used a SIM card, could make calls, send messages, browse the Internet and take pictures, she said.
On Friday, Apple, the world's most valuable technology company, started previewing the Apple Watch, its first new gadget line since former CEO Steve Jobs died in 2011. Customers in China and elsewhere will be able to buy it from April 24.
In Hong Kong, the official Apple Store preview of the Watch was quiet. No lines stretched down the street as they normally do for Apple product launches. A handful of people waited at the door, outnumbered by Apple staff whose cheers lasted a handful of seconds.
Most of the shoppers from mainland China, who commonly cross the border to pick up the latest Apple must-have, were there for other gadgets.
"I'm here to buy an iPad," said a shopper from the southwestern city of Chongqing, who gave her surname as Jian and said she didn't know the previews launched that day.
"I will take a look at the Watch later ... none of my friends have talked about the Watch back home."
But the technology bazaars in the southern Chinese boomtown of Shenzhen were chaotic on Thursday. Merchants hawked their goods to Chinese and foreign shoppers, showing off different smartwatches' various colors and models.
Some weren't impressed with the imitation Apple Watches.
"I really want to buy the original one," said Vikram Jan, an Indian businessman from New Delhi shopping in Shenzhen. "The fake one is really bad."
Though the knock-offs have their admirers, some merchants are doubtful about the impact on genuine Apple Watch sales.
"You know some want the real thing and some just want to go for the cheaper option," said the woman selling knock-off watches. "There are all kinds of customers and people who want the cheaper one would still buy our product."
Reporting by Clare Jim, James Zhang and Stefanie McIntyre; Writing by Paul Carsten; Editing by Christopher Cushing