The feature phone era was a godsend for the thousands of manufacturers of China’s shanzhai — a slang word for ‘knockoff’ — phones. They were cheap to build and not all that difficult to copy; it made being a copycat pretty easy. As smartphones grew in popularity, some suggested these shanzhai manufacturers were out of luck, as making smartphones is both more costly and more difficult.
But shanzhai phone makers apparently don’t give up that easily. Caijing Guojia Weekly published a report today that indicates shanzhai smartphones are very much on the rise. According to “an industry insider in Shenzhen,” the recent lull in shanzhai phones was because many manufacturers were switching their production to smartphones, and that now there are more than 2,000 “brands” of smartphones in China alone.
Of course, along the way, some of these knockoff makers are accidentally becoming actual mobile phone companies. Smartphone user demands for after-sales service and government demands for official verification and inspection of networked devices have conspired to force some shanzhai makers to go legit.
I’m not sure how well these knockoff phones are going to be able to compete — branding seems to be more important in the smartphone era, and many consumers are buying straight from brands’ websites to avoid being tricked — but their switch to smartphone manufacturing comes not a moment too soon, as smartphones are outselling feature phones for the first time in China’s history.