2017 promises to be a huge year for the smartphone market, as big-name devices such as the Samsung Galaxy S8 and the iPhone 8 are set to be revealed to the world.
Promising major updates in terms of hardware power, camera capability and interactivity, these new devices will doubtlessly grab many of the headlines, but what if you want something a little different?
A growing number of Chinese firms are making inroads into the global phone market, and it’s fair to say that Apple and Samsung might be getting worried.
So as Chinese New Year approaches and billions across the world get ready to celebrate the start of the Year of the Rooster, what does 2017 have in store for the country’s phone makers?
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Will the Samsung Galaxy S8 and iPhone 8 be dwarfed by releases from China? Samsung Galaxy S8 – Leaked photos, concept images, and renders Sun, January 1, 2017
Samsung Galaxy S8 looks set to be the smartphone to beat this year. Following a swathe of rumours from the Chinese supply chain, a number of graphic designers have cooked-up high-resolution renders of what the smartphone could look like, when it launches in the UK in April 2017
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Samsung Galaxy S8 will get a dramatic new design, with no buttons, and an edge-to-edge display
With Apple’s iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy devices often hogging the media limelight (for better or worse) across Western markets, it may come as a surprise to many to know that these devices are often nowhere near the most popular brands in some other countries.
China, which only allowed Apple to start selling iPhones in the country in 2014, has instead encouraged its own domestic brands, leading to a completely different landscape to that seen in the UK or USA.
The likes of Huawei, Oppo and Xiaomi may be little known in the West (for now at least), but in a country of over a billion people, such brands have jumped at the chance to exploit a customer base numbering in the hundreds of millions.
These brands manufacture and sell high-end Android phones at a fraction of the price of a new iPhone, with Oppo’s flagship F1 phone retailing for just $249 (£160) compared to the $649 you’d need to pay for the most basic iPhone 7 model.
This is thanks to their use of local components and huge advertising, making them the power players in the huge Chinese marketplace.
Companies such as Oppo excel as producing devices low in cost but high in features
Recent figures from analyst firm Strategy Analytics show that Huawei, probably the best-known Chinese brand in the West, overtook Samsung to become the world’s most profitable Android device maker in the last quarter of 2016.
Granted, Samsung was suffering the effects of the Galaxy Note 7 recall, and the table was still topped by Apple, but the figures show that these new players are hungry to expand.
Speaking of the Galaxy Note 7, it’s worth noting what damage that has done to Samsung’s brand – with the phone itself being turned into a punchline, how many Android customers will now seek an alternative make of phone when upgrading next?
With Samsung now unlikely to launch a new flagship device until the Samsung Galaxy S8 arrives in March, that means another quarter will go by with these growing Eastern firms continuing to steal away market share.
The OnePlus 3 was widely hailed as one of the most impressive Android smartphones around today
As well as providing a welcome alternative from the likes of Apple and Samsung, these other brands are also able to provide hugely powerful and feature-packed smartphones for a fraction of the price.
Take OnePlus, which has gained huge popularity for a number of its most recent handsets, including the OnePlus 3, which Express.co.uk said was, “a phenomenal achievement”, offering huge power and a brilliant camera for just £329, far less than the latest iPhone or Galaxy device.
The company’s devices regularly sell out in Western markets, helped by canny advertising and network partnerships, helping drive up demand and public attention.
Huawei has had a partnership with Arsenal since 2014
Many of these Chinese phone makers will be launching new devices at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next month, allowing them to grab more media attention, and therefore more consumer awareness.
The power of marketing in the hyper-competitive smartphone market cannot be denied, and several Chinese firms have already tried to show off their goods in a big way.
Huawei currently has partnerships with many leading European football clubs, including Arsenal, Paris St Germain, AC Milan and Borussia Dortmund.
Adverts for the likes of Oppo and Vivo, whose phones retail at the fraction of the price of Apple and Samsung, are also becoming commonplace at televised sporting games, especially those which are broadcast back in China.
Vivo phones even made an appearance in last year’s biggest superhero movie, with a branded concept Vivo device ending up in the hands of Robert Downey Junior’s Iron Man in the blockbuster Avengers: Civil War – a film seen by millions worldwide.
The obvious product placement was greeted with incredulity by many observers in Western markets, but was a clear sign that increased marketing budgets are having an effect.
China celebrates the Year of the Rooster this week – so what does 2017 have in store?
So what does this means for the UK market being saturated by alternative Android phones?
In the long run, of course, competition is always a good thing, and as more brands strive for supremacy, this should only mean lower prices for many of us.
If you head to any high street phone store, the number of phones from Chinese brands is growing steadily. As more of more customers clamour for something different to the most popular devices, this is only likely to keep growing.
So keep this in mind next time you’re looking to upgrade your phone – the ideal solution could well be coming not from Apple or Samsung, but from China.