Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Imitation, Creativity, and a Right-Hander's Dream in Chinese Mobile Phones

As I have mentioned many times before (most recently here), a broad variety of mobile phones are designed, made, and sold in China. During a recent visit to Zhuhai's Jida subdistrict, I took a closer look at a store selling phones not made by better known Chinese brands such as BBK, Oppo, Xiaomi, and Gionee. Although some of the phones imitate other brands, some include "micro-innovations" and some can be rather distinctive from phones commonly available in markets outside of China such as the U.S.

Below, I will share four examples of what I found. My intent is simply to stimulate some thought about the mobile phone domain in China.

an iPoone flip phone with a partial Apple logo and a small pink flip phone with a drawing of a young woman holding a heart

The iPoone above on the left obviously fits into the "inspired-by-Apple" category--a category in which I regularly spot new designs. The "Think Different" phone I saw in Guangzhou and the iPncne phone I saw in Ningxia also fit in this category.

The phone above on the right has no obvious Apple influence and is just one of the many small clamshell phones available with various images.

a Dlor flip phone with a poem and an image of two hands and two rings and a yellow JYING flip phone with a scene of butterflies lit up and a digital clock

The yellow phone on the above right offers a butterfly light show. The shopkeeper made sure I noticed the digital clock on the outside.

The "Dlor" phone on the above left is what most caught my eye that day, so I will provide a few more details about it. These words are above the image of the two hands:
I'm not left-hander
Numerous instances of the same image with almost exactly the same words can be found on a number of Chinese online sites. However, I was not able to pin down the original source.

two five-fingered hands hold a ring, another ring in front of the hands, and the poem "I'm not a left-hander 幸福在我的左边 可我........ 却不是个左撇子 抓不住你"

One reasonable translation of the Chinese is "Happiness is on my left, but I can't catch you since I'm not left-handed".

If you're now puzzled by the poem or wondering why hands with an extra finger were used (did you notice?), you're not alone. Any Chinese friends I have asked expressed some confusion, and examples of confusion can be found online (in Chinese) as well.

Yes, there are many questions to ask. And all of the above phones raise more general questions such as "What motivated the design?" and "Why would somebody purchase this phone?" The answers to these questions could guide the design of new phones, whether they look like the above phones or not, for people in China and in other markets as well. As I first suggested after seeing the Think Different phone in Guangzhou, even when there are imitations, such phones can be a potential source of valuable insight or inspiration for global mobile phone brands.

Finally, there is one question I will answer now. No, despite it fascinating me, I did not buy the Dlor phone. After all, it doesn't suit me since I'm a left-hander.

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