Opinion: Smaller Brands Might Offer Clones, but They also Maximize Niches

Opinion: Smaller Brands Might Offer Clones, but They also Maximize Niches

When you hear names such as Elephone, Xiaomi, OnePlus, Gionee, Infinix, TECNO, Meizu, Oppo etc. What is the first thing that comes to your mind? Do you see them as those Chinese phone brands that make low priced smartphones? Do you see them as “experts” at cloning (a dubious virtue, admittedly) smartphones from the more-popular manufacturers?

Whatever you say may be correct, but there are some things worth commending about these lesser-known brands.

You see, these lesser known brands have actually contributed to the Android ecosystem that we know today, many thanks to the open source nature of Android. Have you ever wondered how these brands have managed to stay relevant and profitable? I’ll highlight below a few of the reasons:

  • They always have a (small) target market.
  • They produce their devices in measured quantities they can sell.
  • They rarely release software updates, a few do if you’re lucky (this is certainly not good).
  • They have little or no after sales support in the markets they operate (this isn’t either).

By having target markets and operating with lean budgets, they don’t bother shipping millions of units, they just make a few thousand units, sell them off and smile to the bank. Then they go back to make another one. Consistently churning out devices in small quantities with small profit margins and staying profitable.

They have managed to stay relevant with their small followings unlike the bigger players such as HTC and Sony that are struggling to stay up. One thing I’m glad about these brands is that that they have been able to consistently improve. They have greatly reduced the gap between mid-range and high-end smartphones,they have stiffened the competition, and kept the bigger Android players at their toes.

Still looking at the broader picture, we shall look at the various ways these smaller OEMs have helped pushed the Android revolution up to the level where it is today.

The Biggest of Batteries
The very first Android device I saw with a 4,000 mAh was in 2014. Then that was super huge! That was the Gionee M2. That was among the very first devices to come with bulky battery capacity, now a staple of the budget space. With time the big battery trend has gained lots of traction and now almost everyone wants a device with a big batter as opposed to a thinner profile. We have now seen the likes of Lenovo, Samsung, LG and even Apple release phones with bigger batteries and sometimes chunkier bodies. Interestingly, the phone with the highest battery capacity today is the Oukitel K10000, carrying 10,000 mAh of battery goodness. This is from a Chinese OEM, as expected. They have also managed to keep this big battery phones in a relatively slim profile.

The Slimmest of Phones
In 2014, the same Gionee broke the Guinness book of records twice for making the world’s slimmest smartphones. The first was the Gionee Elife S 5.5, 5.5mm thick, followed by the Gionee Elife S5.1 at 5.15mm (clever naming schemes, huh?). It is certainly incredible what these smaller players have managed to pull off considering their limited scope and resources, especially when compared to themselves just a few years back. This has somewhat pushed other bigger players to reconsider sleekness of devices. Samsung’s reply to this is their A series line up of 2015, with the Galaxy A8 being their slimmest smartphone till date.

Better Pricing/Better specs
We really have the Chinese OEM’s to thank for bringing dirt cheap smartphones, especially to developing countries. In these places, one cannot afford the expensive offerings of the likes of Samsung and Sony. The only affordable options are the ones from these Chinese OEMs.

These OEMs have greatly helped to reduce the line between high-end and mid-range devices. These days, the so called mid-range has become so good and yet affordable, people actually ignore the flagships and buy them instead. Manufacturers have bent the knee to this trend too. We have seen the likes of Motorola last year, launching a couple of really good mid-range phones in the mold of the Moto X Style, Moto X Play etc.

Finally… The Success Stories
Still moving in this line of thought, we have seen some of these smaller brands grow to be recognized internationally and get highly acclaimed. The story of Xiaomi’s success will always be an inspiring one — growing from nowhere to become the number 1 smartphone brand in China in a few short years. Huawei unseated them, but they were the world’s most valuable start-up, a big achievement in today’s start-up culture. OnePlus too is another brand that has enjoyed some form of success using this formula. Though I still have personal grudges with their invite system, plus the long waits and delays before your phone gets shipped to you.


 

It’s clear that the smaller OEMs, particularly those that still have growing up to do in terms of reach and scope, cannot compete with the higher-end in many many ways. But at the same time, they offer various niches that allows them to target small and marked demographics. The Android motto is “be together, not the same” precisely because of variety and diversity, and we’ve seen smaller brands push everything from the biggest batteries to the smallest bezels.

Sure, you and me might prefer something else, something more balanced and traditional, or something that actually receives after-sales support.. but nevertheless we must give credit where credit is due and also recognize that when these companies get better, they apply pressure to the giants we are accustomed to. And in turn, the well-known flagship makers must find new ways to justify their price-point, through better hardware, innovative features or better services. I’d call that a win-win!

Do you think the Chinese and other smaller OEMs have helped push the Android evolution? Or did they just make things more overly complicated? Tell us your thoughts below!

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