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China’s Smartphone Selection—Are U.S. Consumers Missing Out?

China’s southern city of Shenzhen has made a name for itself over the years as a tech hub and mega-factory for electronics of all kinds, including the majority of the world’s smartphones.

This metropolis was China’s first Special Economic Zone, attracting a flood of foreign investment which laid the groundwork for what today has become a flourishing base for finance and manufacturing. Focusing on the latter, most recently it has seen rapid growth in the hardware startup industry and, with Chinese phones in particular, expansion from mass production into design.

As these phones have now gotten real attention on a global scale, people are seeing the variety in both design and functionality, and so, are asking—why aren’t these phones being sold in “Western” markets, particularly the United States?

For many, the short answer is that with the widespread practice of patent and copyright infringement in China, many of these devices simply would not be allowed to compete in heavily regulated markets outside of Asia.

Xiaomi, China’s leading smartphone manufacturer, is probably the most well-known example of this, as they have openly used design details (along with a nearly identical OS) that are exclusive to Apple’s iPhone. They have accomplished this and more by introducing what is considered a quality product at a hugely discounted price compared to the latest iPhone, which as most are probably aware are also made in China. Apple has allegedly done its own share of “borrowing” from other ideas/designs over the years, tweaking them to make them their own, so there’s that.

“Borrowing” aside, there are also other features on some of these phones that would make great selling points in countries other than China. One example is the Xiaomi Mi Note, with its easily viewable real-time display of mobile data used… who wouldn’t want that feature?

Well, for starters, most U.S. carriers.

As Co.Design points out, carriers such as AT&T—along with service providers (Verizon, T-Mobile, etc.)—need to maintain that choke hold on consumers with the pricey, restrictive data plans that frustrate most. A constant reminder of data used in real-time would most likely result in more user discipline, as well as the likelihood many would switch to a cheaper plan.

The same Mi Note has other points as well—a top-notch camera, software that is reportedly simple and intuitive, plus an option to record both sides of a phone conversation. There are probably a good number of people who would want to make use of this last one, for reasons both good or bad. Keep in mind, this practice could very well be illegal depending on where you live, as laws vary regarding privacy. Perhaps this is yet another reason why phones like this are not welcome in the U.S. market. (When it comes to monitoring and recording people’s phone conversations, I guess the NSA wants to be in control of that.)

A collaboration piece (below) from M ss ng p eces and MIT Media Lab reveals other designs that Chinese phone manufacturers are tinkering with. Many of these are surprisingly gimmicky, cheap looking and certainly not new—compact phones shaped like toy cars or a pack of cigarettes—while others have (semi-)useful functions such as the ability to use the phone to charge other small devices in the event of a power outage. And then there’s the phone with a foldout light attached?? Not sure about that one.

However, the more noteworthy focus on options. More specifically, your options, allowing users to decide how to communicate as well as which carriers/services they want to use. Some of the clearest examples include phones with as many as 3–4 SIM card slots. Someone can use one card when they want to take advantage of say, a free texting allowance. Others carriers may allow similar advantages for talk time or data limits.

For frequent travelers, you could keep an extra SIM or two for each country you spend the most time in. Again, these are not necessarily “new concepts,” but they might serve to get people thinking on what functions they would like, and that are currently not available on phones sold in their country.

Bottom line, as asked in the video: Are manufacturers making phones for users or for big corporations?

  • Willieaames

    china is the big market now…