Friday, May 27, 2011

Mobile Phones in China: A Variety of Options

[Note:  Originally posted on May 12, 2011.  I have reposted because the original piece was removed by Blogger in response to an incident around May 13, 2011 and has since not reappeared.  Thanks again to readers who wrote in to say that a saved copy of the post could be retrieved from some RSS readers.]

A previous post covered the topics of local rates, fashion, and fakes for mobile phones in China. Like before, what I'll share in this post is intended to be a high level overview, this time about the variety of mobile phones available in China.

In the "tier 1" cities such as Shanghai many stores selling mobile phones, especially in downtown areas, will have a selection that includes most of the major globally dominant brands. However, in many other cities the typical selection of mobile phones noticeably changes. While Western brands may still be available, there will often be a larger number of Chinese brands.

To provide a small taste of the options in a non-major Chinese city, I'll share some photos (all taken with permission) from two different stores in Zhaotong, Yunnan -- as regular readers of this blog will likely know by now a city in a very rural area of Southwest China.

Here are just some of the phones being sold in one of Zhaotong's larger department stores:

And here is a small part of the selection in one of the many small mobile phone stores one can find in Zhaotong:

Some assorted points:
  • While there are some foreign brands sold in the department store such as Nokia and LG, there are a significant number of Chinese brands, including BBK, Gionee, Jugate, K-Touch, Oppo, Sunup, and more.
  • Some phones in both stores show obvious attempts to be visually appealing for Chinese tastes.
  • The Sunop phones with an apple on them arguably may be a trademark issue, but the overall design is not just simply copying Apple .
  • In the smaller store, trademark issues are more apparent -- especially in the names of phones such as Anycoll (Anycall, a Samsung brand sold in China), Nckla (Nokia), iPheon (iPhone), Mctcrcla (Motorola), and Cppc (Oppo, a Chinese brand). As you can see, this issue is not just limited to foreign brands.
There is much more one could comment on regarding the above photos. And these are just showing a sampling of the phones in two stores out of many in Zhaotong, yet alone in China. However, they're representative enough to make a key point: there is a great variety of mobile phones available in China. There are two reasons why this point is critical to understanding the mobile phone market in China that particularly interest me.

      1) Many consumers have a very wide range of mobiles phones to choose from.

This raises a host of fascinating issues to explore. For example, what impact, if any, does the greater variety have on how people choose their mobile phone in comparison to places with less variety?

      2) It indicates there is a lot of "experimentation" occurring in China.

It's easy to criticize the mobile phone industry in China for the immense about of amount copying that occurs. It's definitely an issue but don't be fooled. There is also a significant amount of design that could be considered creative or innovative. Some of the resulting products may prove to be significantly successful or provide inspiration for better designs -- not only for the Chinese market but others as well.

I'll explore the issues of creativity and innovation in China more in later posts. I don't think they're as clear cut as some portray them to be. For now I'll just close with a claim that may come as a surprise to those who are not very familiar with China: The diversity of mobile phones available in stores in "communist" China is greater, not less, than what can be found in the US.

I'd be very interested to hear you think about that.

[UPDATE:  Follow-up post with a reader's comments and more examples of mobile phones in China here:  Mobile Phones in China: More on Variety]

1 comment:

  1. Putting in my 5 cents, since China doesn't have a strong protect of copy right & trademark, there's an easy entrance for whose who want to join this industry, leading to the variety of mobile phones, also the high competition among those producers. The greater variety, the higher competition, but this will not last for long.

    The winner will be who satisfies the Chinese tastes (price, style, quality?) and expresses a symbol of success for the phone owners, shaping a typical Chinese mobile phone market.