As the country’s most popular mobile OS, Android has almost as many faces in China as there are smartphones. And it’s something that hasn’t gone beyond the notice of Android founder Andy Rubin. 

According to Rubin, the biggest transformation in the mobile market over the past ten years will see the U.S. market take queues from China.

In a Recode conference in California yesterday Rubin said the shift from carriers to manufacturers as the primary distributors of phones is the biggest change of the decade, one that will see the U.S. market looking a lot more similar to China. 

Rubin, who left Android in 2013 to work on other projects, including some with Google, discussed how major phone manufacturers, including Apple, were usurping carriers by offering their own upgrade plans, a feature that China’s upstart mobile market has excelled at.

That’s the biggest change in the last 10 years in mobile,” said Rubin. “It makes the U.S. look a lot more like China.”

The wild west of China’s early smartphone manufacturing sector made manufacturer-to-consumer phone sales a lot more attractive than other markets. The dual sim movement has gained mass momentum in the Chinese market, with an overwhelming number of Chinese flagships hosting the extra slots as part of their bare-minimum feature set.

Major foreign brandnames including Samsung, Nokia and Sony have shied away from dual sim capabilities until quite recently due to pressure from from telecoms companies. However Shanzhai (counterfeit), Chinese phones have been capitalizing on cheap manufacturing to bypass the same concerns for years, a trend that has been seamlessly picked up by China’s legitimate smartphone brands.

And selling phones direct to consumers isn’t the limit for Chinese smartphone makers. Late last month we wrote about the launch of Xiaomi’s mobile contracts, offering their own carrier service that piggy-backs of the infrastructure of multiple telecoms companies. The Chinese smartphone super-startup is now selling sim card plans starting at $10 US equivalent per month. The concept allows Xiaomi to bundle their phones together with their own carrier-branded sim, completely usurping the consumer-to-telecom relationship.  

Xiaomi, like many Chinese smartphones, runs a highly modified – and sometimes unrecognizable – version of Andy Rubin’s Android software, though Rubin himself is surprisingly upbeat about the “fragmentation” of his most popular software contribution, saying he prefers the term ‘consumer choice’.

Image Credit: Bloomua /

Cate is a tech writer. She worked as a journalist in Australia, Mongolia and Myanmar. You can reach her (in Chinese or English) at: @catecadell or

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