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December 9, 2010

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Shady retailers cash in on iPads

THE popularity of Apple Inc's iPad tablet computer among Shanghai residents has given a boost to shady services offered by small electronics shops in the city.

Independent retailers are providing a "jail-breaking" service, cracking the iPad's system so that owners can download applications for nothing.

Customers who buy iPads at digital product malls in the city may be directed to small stores nearby for a crack service, with the cost ranging from 100 yuan (US$15) to 300 yuan, depending on the iPad model.

Once the system is cracked, users can download applications that use Chinese-developed software, instead of buying official products from Apple.

At the Buynow Mall in Xuhui District, many small electronics shops selling desktop and laptop computers are offering shoppers the jail-breaking service.

Although jail-breaking is not advertised, many vendors will provide the service if asked by customers.

Indeed, some upfront retailers have been known to approach shoppers carrying newly purchased iPads and asking: "Do you need help with a jail-break?"

According to a vendor surnamed Guo, the latest system version for iPads, ISO 4.2, has already been cracked by foreign hackers.

Small electronics businesses in Shanghai learned the techniques and began offering the service just two days ago, at a rate of 160 yuan a machine.

Guo said they had cracked more than 20 machines in the past two days without encountering any problems.

"We can guarantee that the cracking process will not damage the machine," said Guo, "Customers can stay and watch the whole process, which only takes about 30 to 40 minutes."

An Apple customer service worker, surnamed Fang, said people who encountered critical errors caused by running jail-breaking software would not be entitled a free repair service from the company's engineers.

She refused to comment on the crack service.

Jail-breaking services are proving a lucrative way for small vendors to win back customers after the market dried up for shanzhai iPads - fakes that looked similar to real iPads but had fewer functions.

Often customers were duped into buying the fakes, believing they were getting the real product. Some shanzhai iPads came in a gold color scheme - the favorite color of many Chinese businesspersons.

To avoid ending up with shanzhai goods, customers took to buying their iPads from major retailers. Undaunted, small vendors tapped into this and began offering crack services.


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