A brand from China
I have worked in a mobile phone shop for the past five years. As part-time jobs go, it’s pretty good. It pays well, I get good benefits and I like the people that I work with. What I enjoy most of all though is playing with new phones. I am a gadget junkie, so getting my fix has been pretty easy. In the past five years there has been a huge expansion in the Smartphone market. Five years ago there were only one or two Smartphone’s available whereas now they dominate the mobile phone market. New phones are appearing all the time. Phones with higher and higher resolution cameras, better resolution video, faster processors, more Ram, LED displays, Retina displays, Amoled displays, crisper displays, bigger and better displays. Technology has improved a massively in such a small amount of time. Nearly all of this innovation is made in the countries like UK, USA, Japan and Korea. However, pretty much all of the products are manufactured in China.
China is the world’s biggest manufacturer of mobile devices and the vast majority of Smartphone’s are manufactured there. Companies like Apple, Samsung and Blackberry use the cheap labor opportunities China has to offer when mass-producing their products. These are products designed in the West, built in China and then shipped to the West for sale. This is a situation that has suited both parties for a number of years. The West designs, China builds. However in recent years this has not exclusively been the case. Chinese companies are now designing and manufacturing their own mobile phones. ZTE and Huawei have been the two big mobile manufacturers to emerge out of a new China. Their cheap range of handsets have made phone ownership and indeed Smartphone ownership much more attainable in an increasingly expensive market. For example a Samsung Smartphone would cost around £100, whereas the ZTE or Huawei equivalent would cost around £70. These handsets are typically rebranded as network handsets in the UK. What I mean by a rebrand is that a Network carrier like T-Mobile for example, will hire a contract manufacturer like ZTE to sell them phones with there own Network branding. The name, packaging and logos of the new mobile product will all reflect this Network rebranding. The same handset can end up being sold by a number of Networks but with varying names and packaging. The color and software also usually differs. Below are two phones designed and manufactured by ZTE, the Orange Miami and the T-Mobile Touch II. Exactly the same phone but different branding.
This is something that HTC, a Taiwanese company, did for a number of years during the early days of the Smartphone. As well as designing handsets for O2, Orange and T-Mobile in the UK, they also design for networks in the USA, working with Cingular, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile and AT&T Wireless. HTC created some of the first Smartphone’s in 1998 and the first Microsoft powered handset in 2002. This was the direct predecessor to the Smartphone we know today and it was universally adopted as the PDA phone. They all typically ran a version of Windows Mobile and were targeted at businessmen. It basically looked like a mini laptop with a touch screen without any of the apps and endless features that we take for granted on the current Smartphone.
Then, a couple of years ago, HTC began to develop its brand within the west and began to sell phones under their own name in western countries. They are now one of the biggest manufacturers of Android Smartphone’s in the world. If HTC can make the change from being network branded, then why can’t a Chinese company? With the countries vast recourses and manufacturing expertise they will surely do the same won’t they?
China was once a very innovative country. China gave the world the bank note, gunpowder, paper, printing, the abacus, tea and bells. These are but a few examples of Chinese invention and ingenuity. For two thousand years the Chinese contributed a huge amount of technological advancement to mankind. However due to it’s historical inwardness, many of these inventions were not passed onto the West. Subsequently they were not attributed to the Chinese and instead invented separately in the West sometimes may hundred of years later.
Now it seems that innovation has been lost, or at least temporarily forgotten. As its people have lost their individual freedoms, new innovative design and technology has been very limited. Strangely, with a loss of freedom has come great prosperity for many Chinese. This is because the speed of Chinese growth would not be possible without the control placed upon its people. So it could be argued that loss of individual freedom has directly contributed to the rate of expansion, but has unintentionally stifled the Chinese creativity for design.
China today is the workshop of the world, producing the majority of the worlds manufactured goods. However not all the manufacturing is legit. China is also the counterfeit workshop of the world. It seems that there is nothing that cannot be copied. From DVD’s and clothes, to mobile phones and even cars, there is nothing it seems that the Chinese cannot reverse engineer. Some of these copies are of a pretty good standard and can easily be passed off as genuine.
Individual freedom is essential for good design. People need freedom to create. If this is lost or stifled then new creative ideas are not developed. China certainly has the recourses to manufacture and mass-produce but until the great Chinese expansion plan is completed, then individual freedom will continue to be restricted. As China develops over the next ten years and restrictions on freedom are lifted, and as Chinese students return from the West, Chinese design will become much more influential on the world stage. New and influential companies like those seen in the west will emerge from this new China. In the future it may be Chinese companies who drive forward global trends for technology.