Thursday, June 2, 2011

Mobile Phones in China: More on Variety

In a recent post, I discussed the great variety of mobile phones available in China and shared some examples from stores in Zhaotong, Yunnan (see here).  A reader, Jendy, had this to say about the post:
"I wrote a paper on the cellular industry in China during my MBA program, after having spent 2 weeks in there with my class. I remember a factory owner saying that the Chinese see cell phones as a status symbol, much like cars or houses in other countries. He said that some of his factory workers would prioritize having the best and most technological cell phone over new clothes, eating a good dinner, etc."
I made some related points when I discussed the role of fashion and image in people's choice of mobile phones in an earlier post "Mobile Phones in China: Local Rates, Fashion, and Fakes":
"Many are willing to spend a large proportion of their income to purchase a mobile phone, sometimes saving up at least several months of their full salary, out of concerns related to fashion and image. For many people in China, their mobile phone will be the most expensive and openly visible item that can be with them many places they go -- like a car for many people in the US. While hanging a mobile phone around ones neck isn't as common in China as it used to be, there remain many opportunities for it to be visible."
Fashion, image, and status can be very intertwined.  For now, I'll avoid getting into a deep discussion on these issues, but suffice it to say they all can play a role in many mobile phone purchases in China.

Jendy continued with a claim connecting the role of a mobile phone as a status symbol and the diversity of mobile phones in China:
"So, it's not really surprising that there is more variety in China when there is a large population of people who prioritize cell phones over many other things."
Jendy also provided some anecdotal evidence for the impact Chinese brand mobile phones are already having globally:
"On a side note, I have friends in Chile who order Chinese phones over the web because there is so much more variety and phones with more features than you can't find here (dual sim phones for example)."
As Jendy's example shows, by developing localized designs for Chinese consumers Chinese mobile phone manufacturers are also likely creating devices that meet needs in other markets.  There are reports that exports of Chinese brand mobile phones are rapidly growing (I'm still looking for a source I feel OK about linking to, though).  It will be fascinating to see how the industry develops.

To further highlight the variety of mobile phones available from China I'll share some photos from a store you may have heard of in Zigong, a city in Sichuan province that is a six hour bus ride from Zhaotong.  In a previous post about Mother's Day in Zigong I shared some photos of a fashion show at Mall-mart and commented that the store was similar to Walmart in many ways.  I later discovered that Zigong's first actual Walmart had opened only a few months prior to my visit.

Zigong's first Walmart

As typical for Walmarts in China, it had an electronics section including mobile phones.  Like the department store in Zhaotong it had a wide array of Chinese brand phones in addition to more globally familiar brands such as Nokia.  However, many of the Chinese brands were different from those I had seen in the Zhaotong store.  Here are some photos of the selection available at Walmart (thanks to the Walmart staff for permission):

Quejaz mobile phones

Hedy and Gionee mobile phones

"Great" mobile phones

Lenovo mobile phone with transparent screen.

Nokia mobile phones 

Konka and Dim mobile phones

Dim and Opsson mobile phones

There were other brands as well.  The Walmart in Zigong and the stores in Zhaotong are of course just a handful of stores, but they are representative in many ways and provide a hint of the diversity of mobile phones available in China.

More on mobile phones in China later.

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