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The rise of China's smartphone makers

Matt Hamblen | Jan. 2, 2015
10 of the top 17 smartphone manufacturers now come from China.

The Moto G, center, lies next to its relations, the Moto X, left, and the Moto E. Expect a boost in marketing of Moto phones since Motorola's handset division was acquired by China-based Lenovo. Credit: Mike Homnick

After Apple and Samsung, which companies are selling the most smartphones around the globe?

If you guessed a growing group of Chinese smartphone manufacturers, you would be correct.

Most Americans know little about the emerging Chinese smartphone makers, let alone how to pronounce some of their names. Most of these handsets are unlikely to be seen in use by U.S. customers, at least for now.

Yet, these Chinese companies, with names like Huawei, Xiaomi, Coolpad, Lenovo, ZTE, and even Alcatel (which is now part of TCL Corp., a Chinese electronics company) are having a big impact both inside China and in emerging economies.

These companies mostly sell unlocked smartphones that run the Android mobile operating system. They usually charge much lower off-contract prices than Apple and Samsung, and they're beginning to challenge some of the world's traditional smartphone makers.

Globally, Huawei of Shenzhen, China, was the No. 3 smartphone maker in terms of revenue in the third quarter of 2014. Huawei was well behind Apple and Samsung, but in a virtual tie with LG Electronics of Seoul, South Korea, according to Infonetics Research.

Meanwhile, market research firm IDC reported that newcomer Xiaomi, which is based in Beijing, shipped the third-most smartphones to retailers in the third quarter. Xiaomi was just ahead of Lenovo, also based in Beijing, which was in fourth place but virtually tied with LG. Xiaomi's smartphone shipments jumped an amazing 211% year over year, reaching 17.3 million units, according to IDC.

Out of the top 17 smartphone makers globally in the third quarter, 10 were based in China, according to Strategy Analytics. Xiaomi ranked third in total production, and Huawei ranked fifth. The rest of the Chinese group in Strategy Analytics' top 17 included Lenovo, ZTE, TCL Alcatel, Lenovo (formerly Motorola under Google), Coolpad, Oppo, Vivo, Micromax and Tionee.

"The Chinese vendors are absolutely having an impact on many smartphone brands that have to compete with low-cost Chinese smartphones," said Ken Hyers, an analyst at Strategy Analytics.

"People in the U.S. don't even know who these Chinese companies are," added John Byrne, an analyst at Infonetics.

"I was just in China recently, and you see phones in use with labels I'm not even familiar with," Byrne said. "It was an eye-opener. Especially in Asia, there's a much larger variety of phones in use and not the duopoly of Samsung and Apple that we have in the U.S."


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