Is 2014 the Year of the Chinese Android Smartphone?

Chinadroid

Last November I wrote about the third smartphone ecosystem, and wondered which one it would be. Some stats I linked to claimed it was Windows Phone that was trailing Android and iOS worldwide, but there is actually another contender for third place. If you’re willing to accept a small cheat, the third most popular smartphone platform might, in fact, be Android.

According to a report from Baidu, China has some 270 million Android users. But unlike here in the west, 70% of those users don’t use Google’s Play Store. Because Android is an open source platform, any hardware maker is free to take and use it as they see fit.

All this is only to say that Android is hugely popular in China. And the good news, for us, is that some of their best products are coming our way.

Oppo

You may know them more for their DVD players, but Guangdong-based Oppo is very much in the Android smartphone game. The company is a member of the Open Handset Alliance, so their hardware ships with full support for Google Play Services. You won’t find their devices in any carrier store — they’ve rather smartly sidestepped that racket and instead sell directly to North American customers via their website and Amazon.

Oppo has also embraced the Android modding community, and as a result can boast to shipping the world’s first CyanogenMod phone. How’s that for a coup?

Xiaomi

Former Google exec Hugo Barra caused quite a stir when he left Mountain View for Beijing this past summer to work for Xiaomi. But Android modders already knew about Xiaomi thanks to their highly-regarded (if now a bit outdated) MIUI ROM.

What you might not know is that MIUI made the company almost $5 million USD this past year thanks to paid themes, apps and other content. If that fails to impress, consider that Xiaomi plans to sell 40 million devices in 2014 — that’s 10 million more than Samsung shipped to China this past year.

The bad news, for us, is that Xiaomi seems to be taking a conservative path to world domination. Singapore is their next target for expansion, which at least opens up a sales channel on the grey market.

Meizu

It’s a different story with Guangdong-based Meizu. They’ll be at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this month ahead of a U.S. launch later this year.

I visited a very-crowded Meizu store in Hong Kong in 2011 and had a quick hands-on with that year’s flagship device, the MX. Build quality was exceptional, and the price almost too good to be true. I would have brought one home but the waiting list to get one was too long.

Why I’m Excited

I’ll be visiting Hong Kong again with my girlfriend later this month, and we’re planning on hopping the border to Shenzhen for my first-ever visit there. I would love nothing more than to come home with a Xiaomi Mi3 and/or Meizu MX3, but will settle for seeing some Oppo hardware in the flesh.