iPod speaker clones increase, confusing buyers

Original? A knockoff? Or just a non-exclusive design made by a random Chinese factory for sale to multiple vendors? Over the past several years, small iPod accessory makers looking for quick growth have become dependent on web sites such as Global Sources and Alibaba.com, which connect manufacturers of little white speaker systems with Western companies looking to jump on the iPod audio bandwagon. The results have varied from interesting to disappointing: once sold only by Pacific Rim Technologies, the Cube Travel Speakers have now been resold in cosmetically identical form – often times with much inferior sound and build quality – under myriad other small brand names, sometimes producing complaints to Pacific Rim from disappointed buyers of other companies’ versions. Similarly, the number of variants on Sonic Gear’s years-old i-Steroid series of “vacuum tube” speakers, including last year’s iTube from GINI Systems and Recoton’s just-announced blackVault 2.1 (shown), is growing every month, varying only in small details.

This week brought a surprise: two companies with bigger brands – and past reputations for releasing at least aesthetically novel products – joined the “me-too” crowd. At last week’s CES and Macworld Expo trade shows, and for the first time in the United States, two major companies simultaneously announced virtually identical iPod speaker systems: at Macworld Expo, DLO showed iBoom Travel, a small clock radio, at the same time as rival Jensen at CES was announcing JiMS-120, a system with the same general exterior design and features. Can you tell the units from each other using the photos below?
imageInspected up close, the units exhibit modest aesthetic differences – for instance, the companies’ names, the shape of the clear plastic molding around their iPod docks, and the color of their backlighting. But those small issues aside, iBoom Travel and JiMS-120 look like twin brothers, shipped from the same assembly line. As a significant differentiator, Jensen’s JiMS-120 includes a free remote control, while iBoom Travel does not.

imageThe trend shows no sign of stopping: the number of generic, iPod-ready speakers – including clones of Apple’s iPod Hi-Fi, Altec Lansing’s iMmini, and numerous JBL products – continues to grow. Is this the future of the iPod speaker market? Or, after years of sifting through hundreds of forgettable third-rate speakers, will iPod accessory buyers finally reach a point of saturation, relying on novel, acoustically-tuned designs from better-known vendors? Your thoughts and comments are appreciated below.

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