BEIJING – For most Americans, the names are unknown, perhaps a bit difficult to pronounce: Huawei, Xiaomi, Oppo, Vivo.
These are the biggest smartphone brands in China. Around the world – but not in the United States – the handset sector is making the handset industry extremely competitive. This week, after warning Apple that iPhone sales would be disappointing in China, industry observers said the Chinese brand appliances were one of the main culprits.
As China's phone market reaches saturation and sales decline, the country's hardware manufacturers are pushing more and more winning fans in France, Germany, India and Southeast Asia, where consumers are discovering that phones can do just about anything. an iPhone can do at a fraction of the cost.
Apple comfortably occupies the top of the market in many countries, including China, for high-end handsets. But companies like Huawei have begun to do what they did in China, competing with the iPhone for experience and value and attracting customers with price comparisons that encourage them to rethink the purchase of the flagship product. Apple.
The difference in cost is significant: in China, an iPhone XR costs around 950 USD, while the high-end handsets of Huawei cost around 600 USD and comparable models of Xiaomi, even less. The iPhone XS starts at around $ 1,250.
Companies such as Huawei and Oppo have made improvements in functionality and overall quality that attract many wealthy Chinese, said Mo Jia, an analyst in Shanghai research firm Canalys technology. The aggressive marketing and sales campaigns of Chinese brands in Europe indicate that companies believe that local consumers who traditionally use the iPhone will do the same.
"Maybe it will not happen this year or next year," said Jia. "But Huawei is going in that direction."
In its quest for the European market, Huawei (pronounced "HWA-way"), headquartered in Shenzhen and now the world's second largest smartphone seller, has gone far beyond the phone store. Huawei sponsored summer concerts in Greece, partnered with the Lithuanian Basketball Federation and sponsored a "China Festival" in Cologne, Germany. Vivo sponsored last year's World Cup in Russia.
Xiaomi (pronounced "SHAO-mee"), based in Beijing and founded in 2010, appears to be out of nowhere to become the 4th largest mobile phone brand in Europe early last year, according to Canalys. The gadget maker has also become the number one phone seller in India, including opening hundreds of stores in rural areas.
Clément Blaise, a 25-year-old banker from northern France, has an iPhone for work and a Xiaomi as a personal phone. He said that he needed to recharge the Apple device 'all the time', but that he could stay two days without charging his Xiaomi.
"We have this misconception and misconception that Chinese brands are not as good, that their products are of low quality," Blaise said. "But the price gap leaves out fears. For 150 euros "- about 170 $ -" what do you risk anyway? "
Chinese phone makers have not made the same breakthrough in the United States. The US government has been trying for years to prevent the sale of Huawei's smart phones and telecommunications network equipment, following a 2012 congressional investigation that called Huawei a vehicle likely to be used for cyber-fraud by the Chinese government. The Trump administration urged Western allies to do the same.
Security issues have not deterred some overseas buyers. Giannis Vassilopoulos, a student in Athens, said he was bombarded by Huawei commercials during his recent trips to Europe. He said that he had bought a Huawei phone because the brand felt more familiar or even more European.
"Seeing Huawei in the heart of London immediately gives the impression that it is more Western," he said.
Apple still has a hold on consumers in many places. The general manager of the company, Timothy D. Cook, announced that Apple should set business turnover records in richer countries like Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, South Korea and Spain and in some emerging markets such as Malaysia and Mexico. , Poland and Vietnam.
However, in China, Apple's market share is down and the company clings to the fifth rank of smartphone shipments, according to market research firm Counterpoint. A spokeswoman for Apple declined to comment.
China has become the world's largest smartphone market over the last decade, as rising incomes coincide with an explosion of mobile technologies.
In China, people use phones of all kinds, whether they rent bicycles, register in sports halls or pay restaurant bills. The market is becoming saturated and there are fewer and fewer people in China who do not have an advanced device. But there are also new economic reasons for buying locally-made products: consumers who are replacing or looking to modernize are reminiscent of the slowdown in China.
The leading smartphone vendor in mainland China is Huawei today, whose range of handsets includes mid-range devices and high-end models with the latest features. Vivo and Oppo, trademarks owned by the same Chinese parent company, are as follows. Next is Xiaomi, whose phones, smart home appliances and even sneakers command a fan base of passionate fans.
Samsung in South Korea, which sells more smartphones in the world than any other brand, accounts for only about 1% of the market in China.
Feng Yin, a 32-year-old engineer, now has an iPhone, but plans to switch to a Huawei device.
"In recent years, Apple's phone technology has not made much progress, while that of home phones has improved," he said Friday during a visit to a Huawei store in Beijing. Shanghai. "The difference is getting smaller."
Apple products have long been considered in China as giving their owners the ultimate in cachet and freshness. But Chinese companies have used marketing and celebrity tips in the hope of adding more personality to their products, while promoting advances in camera technology, battery life and microchips.
On Friday, Xian Longfei, a restaurant chef and a friend were in an Oppo store in Shanghai. Mr. Xian, 35, has tried a lot: Nokia, Motorola, Samsung and three different iPhone models. He moved to an Oppo a few months ago.
He recognizes that Apple devices always look better overall. But many of his friends in Shanghai and his hometown are Oppo users. And the price – about $ 400 on sale – was hard to beat.
In addition, he says, holding his pink handset, "the form factor is pretty."
Another disadvantage to Apple in China is the dominance of WeChat, a messaging, social media and payment app used by over a billion people. It works on the Android operating system of Google as well as that of Apple, which makes the software of a phone less important.
"Why would people pay such a high price for an iPhone," said Kiranjeet Kaur, analyst for research firm IDC, "if from a hardware point of view, there is not much of an upgrade from Huawei and a platform perspective, there is nothing to lock people up? "
In Europe, buyers of Chinese brands describe a kind of conversion. The irritating defects of their iPhone or their Samsung devices push them to look for alternatives. Presented with unknown Chinese products, they have doubts at first. But after a while, they become addicted.
When Alessandro Del Mastro, 33, bought a Huawei handset in southern Italy three years ago, he was skeptical.
"My friends teased me that it would not last, like most Chinese products, but we were all wrong," he said.
Faruk Kaya uses an Apple iPhone and tablet, but, as a salesman in an electronics store in Berlin, he meets German customers who prefer Chinese brands.
"You can now get a smartphone with the best photo and audio quality for about half the price of an iPhone or a Samsung," he said.
Gregory Lauseiro, a telecommunications manager in Paris, bought his eighth Huawei phone last summer. He also transformed his 56-year-old aunt Christine Jankowski into a believer.
"I do not really worry about the fact that it's a Chinese brand," said Ms. Jankowski about her Huawei phone. She added, "We know that they make incredible technological products.
"If I had to buy a Chinese frying pan, I would not know it," she said. "But a phone?"