Here's The Biggest Thing Happening In The Mobile Phone Business Right Now


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Samsung MWCBusiness InsiderOne of Samsung’s booths at MWC

We just spent some time chatting with Benedict Evans on the floor of MWC, the huge mobile industry conference in Barcelona.

Evans is an analyst who works at VC firm Andreessen Horowitz. He’s one of the sharpest minds in the industry, and a keen observer of emerging trends. He’s been coming to MWC for 15 years now.

We asked him for the big theme he’s noticing walking the floors.

He says he’s impressed by the improvement in quality by little known Chinese smartphone manufacturers.

Last year, there were plenty of obscure phone makers cranking out Android-based phones, but for the most part the phone quality was low, and the implementation of Android was weak. This year, the phone quality is higher, Android is better, and the branding is stronger.

It’s like they went back home and hired a bunch of marketers, says Evans. They looked around at the big booths from HTC, Samsung, Lenovo, and others, and realised that they needed to develop better brands, better design, and better marketing.

Now, there are a bunch of Chinese manufacturers cranking out ~$100 smartphones running on a variant of Android. Testing the phones on the floor, they seem to be pretty good.

So what does this mean for the industry?

Evans couldn’t (or wouldn’t) say definitively. He said everything is settled with iOS and Android winning the platform wars. But nothing is settled because Android is evolving dramatically. In five years, who knows what Android will be? It’s getting forked and fragmented like crazy by all these sub-brands.

He quoted someone from a Qualcomm presentation he saw. This person said that the smartphone industry is like a barbell, with Apple and Samsung on one end, and a bunch of Chinese manufacturers on the other end. In the middle, in the skinny bar section, you have HTC, Nokia, Sony, and others, trying to figure out what they’re doing.

It seems like this trend is not good for Samsung. There are a lot of companies making phones that look exactly like Samsung’s phones. Evans noted that all you’d have to do is screen a Samsung logo on some of them, and you wouldn’t think to yourself, “This is a cheap Chinese phone.” You’d believe it was a Samsung phone.

The key differentiation is that Samsung is spending millions every quarter on distribution and marketing. These no-name companies can’t compete with that. So, they’re flooding South America and India with cheap phones, hoping to gain traction.

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