In 2014 we saw a half dozen new Chinese Android phone brands, including OnePlus, Smartisan, and IUNI. Unlike previous Chinese mobile phone makers, they emphasised the appearance, design and branding, adopted a low-pricing strategy, sold phones online, and did fancy launch events. Their overall strategy is followed that of Xiaomi, the Chinese Android phone maker that has surpassed Samsung to become China’s top smartphone brand in terms of shipments in 2014, according to IDC.
Given nowadays there’s no major differences in the specifications and prices, the selling point for the new brands as against Xiaomi lies in the design of hardware or software, or both. But some creative hardware designs led to manufacturing problems. Shipping delays was one of the causes that Smartisan, which hired American consumer electronics designer Ammunition Group and iPhone manufacturer Foxconn, only shipped 122,000 units by December 5th, 2014.
Some brands performed better outside China, like OnePlus which was warmly welcomed by Western tech media and announced shipment of one million units before the end of 2014.
Existing big smartphone brands, such as Lenovo and Huawei, which previously placed more emphasis on pricing than hardware and software design or branding, have geared their strategies to adapting to the new trends, while brands such as OPPO have stable and loyal audiences.
So China’s smartphone market is already crowded. But we’re expecting to see another half a dozen Chinese Android phone brands emerge in 2015. Many of them are already big tech companies in their home sectors.
LeTV, the Chinese smart TV and online content company, is to launch its long-awaited first Android phones next month (April). It has been reported the launch event will be held in Silicon Valley.
This is not a surprising move as LeTV always said their goal was to build a hardware, software and content ecosystem. Starting from video steaming, the company’s product portfolio now includes consumer electronic products, such as smart TV and set-top box, LeUI (or LeOS), a custom Android system for most of its hardware products, and video content production businesses.
LeTV phones will be loaded with a version of LeUI (or LeOS) for smartphones and include all the apps, services and content that are available on LeTV’s existing hardware products.
Some photos posted by the company show the phone is bezel-less. The reported specs are Mediatek’s currently best processor MT6795, 5.5-inch, and a 1080p display.
To run its smartphone business, the company has tapped Feng Xin, former vice president of Lenovo and head of its Mobile Internet and Digital Home Business Group, and executives from Meizu, a leading Chinese smartphone maker. It has a R&D team for smartphone development of more than 1000 employees.
With the smartphone, LeTV is becoming a closer competitor to Xiaomi, which also produces smart TV and other electronics products, keeps updating a custom Android operating system for those devices, and has begun building an online video content platform.
The first attempts at entering the smartphone market by the online security service and internet service developer was in 2012. Qihoo 360’s approach back then was partnering with well-known brands, selling smartphones custom-made its by partners to Qihoo’s rapidly expanding audience.
As this didn’t work out, this time the company is taking a different strategy, by establishing a joint venture with high-end smartphone manufactuer Coolpad, one of the biggest smartphone makers in China, and more recently unveiling 360 OS, a customized Android system, for its future phones.
Earlier this month Dong Mingzhu, chairman and president of China’s leading air conditioner maker Gree, surprised everyone by showing off a smartphone with Gree’s logo on it. One year ago Ms. Dong had a highly publicised spat on TV with Xiaomi’s CEO Lei Jun on whether the fast-growing smartphone maker could possibly surpass Gree in sales revenue in five years.
Gree came up with the idea of producing smartphones two years ago, Ms. Dong said in an interview with Tencent’s QQ Tech News (source in Chinese). Gree phones will come with high-end and low-end models and go on sale within half a year.
Making smartphones isn’t only for connecting phones with air conditioners, according to Dong, that Gree’s smart air conditioners will have their own user interfaces. Xiaomi has made clear that its investment in another leading home appliance maker Midea is for its smart home initiative.
Like Luo Yonghao, Smartisan CEO Li Yang is a famous English teacher in China. Mr. Li’s team first of al developed an e-reader device, with their in-house developed app for English learning built in. Their next step is to make a smartphone that comes with the app pre-loaded. Mr. Li hopes this phone will become a bigger business than New Oriental Education & Technology, the biggest private education company in China in terms of market cap.
Editing by Mike Cormack (@bucketoftongues)