Business / View

Hello Huawei, Xiaomi, bye-bye big brands

By Bai Ping (China Daily) Updated: 2016-02-26 10:49

At the first staff meeting of the year, when everybody seemed to be stealing a glance at their cellphones now and then, I did a quick check on which was the most popular brand with my colleagues.

Apple? Samsung? Nope, guess again. It was Huawei.

Personally, I've been an early adopter of the Chinese brand and I'm using a big, sleek Mate 8 that is its latest flagship product. But only a year ago, I had to explain to almost everybody in my office that Huawei, though cheaper, was almost as good as my old Samsung. They might have found it difficult to understand. They were Apple fans who went gaga over every new iPhone launch.

Earlier still, I had removed the "Sent from my Huawei" signature at the bottom of the e-mail app and I would leave the device in my pocket when I met people, because Chinese brands were often associated with low-income laborers.

My decision to switch to Huawei was based on value for money, after I realized that my love affair with more expensive top brands was always short and costly. Each cellphone had lasted only a year or two either because I lost it or it began to malfunction for some reason. Huawei turned out to be a good substitute with the optimum combination of functions and costs.

My only concern then was that it didn't have the same status as an iPhone, and a cellphone is often the first thing that people notice about you. But to my relief, Huawei has caught up fast as a visible accessory, eyeing Apple and Samsung's share in the premium-end markets.

Sometimes, when a colleague and I exchange a WeChat post or a video, both with a Huawei or Xiaomi in our hands, I wonder if the tipping point for the much-anticipated "Made in China" upgrade has already arrived, at least for consumer electronics, while shoddy, inferior products and services are still a daily reality.

Decades ago, Japanese television sets, refrigerators and video players were considered luxury possessions that were available only to the rich and the privileged who shunned Chinese products. Now, people often prefer indigenous brands for their smarter features and more generous promotions.

During Spring Festival in February, Chinese tourists in Japan snapped up Japanese condoms, sanitary pads, nail clippers and other cheap items. But it might be good news to some Chinese makers that the domestic fever for Japanese electronic gadgets, including rice cookers and toilet seats, has vanished.

Some of the most successful Chinese companies have aspired to be globally competitive multinational groups through acquisitions as well as innovation. Chery Automobile, a Chinese carmaker, has probably gone several status symbol levels beyond its former self by producing Chery Jaguar Land Rover through a business tie-up.

But it's the Chinese smartphones that are leading the rise of the Chinese manufacturers, as they become a status symbol in their own right.

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