Apple AirPods mix-up leaves US border force red-faced

Apple or OnePlus? (Image credit: iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Apple's AirPods have become one of the most ubiquitous pieces of in-ear tech, so it's no surprise that there's a huge market for counterfeit models. And while it can be hard to tell these apart from legitimate imitations by other brands, it seems US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has been a little overzealous in its search for fake Apple goods.

CBP tweeted last night (below) that it had seized 2,000 "counterfeit Apple AirPods from Hong Kong", along with a photo of – wait for it – a pair of OnePlus Buds. That's right, it seems the border force has mistaken a rival brand's legitimate (albeit similarly designed) earphone's for knock-off versions of Apple's own. If you're looking to kit out some actual AirPods (and potentially further confuse the feds), check out our best fun AirPods cases.

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Sure, it's probably no accident that OnePlus Buds' design closely resembles those of Apple's AirPods – without the packaging, perhaps we could forgive CBP for the mistake. But as the agency's own photo shows, the earphones are fully packaged in a box that quire clearly reads 'OnePlus Buds'. Not only that, but the charging case CBP has removed from the box clearly features OnePlus's curved design as opposed to Apple's more rectangular shape.

CBP says the "AirPods" would be worth almost $400k if genuine. But as Twitter has been quick to let the agency know (below), these are neither genuine nor non-genuine AirPods – they aren't AirPods, full stop.  

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In a press release about the seizure, CBP claims that "the interception of these counterfeit earbuds is a direct reflection of the vigilance and commitment to mission success by our CBP officers daily." Over-commitment, one might argue.

But while CBP might be feeling a little red-faced this morning, the amusing mix-up does highlight influence of Apple design on its rivals. Imitation is supposedly the sincerest form of flattery, and competitors are clearly eager to ape Apple design – to a point where it seems customs can't even tell the difference. Still, that's not to say that Apple always gets it right – five years later, fans are still fuming about one of Apple's worst design decisions ever

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Daniel John
Senior News Editor

Daniel John is Senior News Editor at Creative Bloq. He reports on the worlds of art, design, branding and lifestyle tech (which often translates to tech made by Apple). He joined in 2020 after working in copywriting and digital marketing with brands including ITV, NBC, Channel 4 and more.