Home Columns Anantha Narayan China in Your Hand

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When AT&T employee Pamela Savage coined the term ‘Smart Phone’ in 1995, little did she know that in less than 20 years, nearly 1.2 billion smartphones would be shipped annually.
The ensuing iPhone and Android revolutions have catapulted Apple and Samsung into pole positions and they’ve raced away with a combined market share of approximately 45 per cent. But some smarter, sleeker and cooler Chinese brands are turning the heat on.
Being copycats par excellence, they are able to beat the Americans and Koreans with supersonic speed and super human economies of scale. Huawei, the world’s largest telecom equipment manufacturer, was the first to spot the opportunity. Founded by a former engineer from the Chinese army, Huawei (meaning: Chinese achievement) is legendary for launching the copy weeks before the original can hit the racks.
Xiaomi (pronounced shee-ow-me) is the other brand that’s making waves. The Beijing-based electronics company got into the business of smartphones in August 2011 and by 2014, the company had sold a mindboggling 60 million smartphones. Xiaomi, interestingly, is the Chinese word for millets. Apparently, the inspiration was the Buddhist philosophy of doing big things, grain by grain. The odd name gave another Chinese brand, Meizu, a golden marketing opportunity. They distributed free millets with their phones and claimed, “Xiaomi now free with every Meizu phone.” Cheeky, no?
The success of Xiaomi has spawned many more Chinese brands and they are all pouring into India. Gionee was among the first to set up shop with their Elife series. For the curious-minded, Gionee, supposedly, is an anglicised form of Chinese Jin Li, which means ‘golden and beautiful’. Zopo (acronym for Zealous Open Perfect Outstanding) has thrown in its hat, too—perhaps following the footsteps of Oppo (short for ‘opportunity), a mobile brand that’s been quite visible in the national media.
OnePlusTwo, the phone that sounds like a student who’s flunked his 12th board exam, is the hot cake that’s getting heaps of fan following in our metros, thanks largely to its innovative strategy of phones-by-invitation-only. OnePlusTwo is from a company named OnePlus (speculated to be a secret subsidiary of Oppo). Another big player is Vivo (Latin for ‘alive’). You’ll get to hear a lot about them as they’ve snagged the IPL title rights for two years. With so many brands jostling for space, it’ll be interesting to see who wins the Chinese checkers.

Anantha Narayan

Do you own a Made in China phone? Talk about the name to anantha@albertdali.com

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