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Market Insight

Smartisan joins crowded Chinese Android handset market

May 30, 2014  | Subscribers Only

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Chinese start-up Smartisan announced its long-awaited smartphone T1 on the 20th of May, one year after unveiling its custom Android skin, Smartisan OS.

Smartisan T1 has the following specifications:

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 MSM8*74 quad-core processor
  • JDI 4.95 inch Pixel Eyes screen with a resolution of 1080p
  • Camera: 12.78 megapixel Sony Exmor sensor and Fujitsu Milbeaut mobile solution.
  • 2GB RAM

The 3G Smartisan T1 will arrive in July from RMB3000 (($480). Its 4G version will be released by the end of the year. 

The company also announced that after two rounds of funding from undisclosed investors, Smartisan raised a total of RMB 250 million ($40 million).

Our Take

T1’s specifications are on the high end by Chinese phone standards. Other than its premium hardware, Smartisan pays great attention to user experience with emphasis on symmetry in design, suiting both left and right-handed users. It is designed by US-based Ammunition, whose founder Robert Brunner was Apple’s former design chief. This combination indicates that China is climbing up the production chain from a mere manufacturer of low-end products lacking innovation to becoming a hub of design excellence. It corresponds to the government’s 12th Five Year Plan to divert its economy from labor intensive industries.

Apart from its user-friendly features, Smartisan’s founder Luo Yonghao is a major reason for the huge attention given to T1’s debut. The former English teacher is famous for his witty blog posts, with more than 7 million followers on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like microblog. Smartisan T1’s release was the first live broadcast phone launch event in China, attracting 5,000 attendees and a total of 10 million online viewers.

Despite having little background in phone engineering, Luo Yonghao has a vision to make Smatisan “the best smartphone in the Eastern Hemisphere". This brand-centric strategy resembles Xiaomi, one of China’s best-selling smartphones. As emerging brands are becoming more customer-focused, they stand out from China’s engineering-focused phone manufacturers like Huawei and ZTE.

Smartisan’s RMB3000 ($480) price almost doubles Xiaomi’s Mi3 (RMB1699, $272), which has similar high-end specifications. Nonetheless, by the second day after T1’s launch, it already received 50,000 online preorder, achieving 10 percent of the company’s publically stated expectations. The result suggests room for growth for high end devices in a market that is traditionally considered price sensitive.

IHS forecasts that China’s smartphone shipment in 2014 will reach 347 million, taking up 91% of total handset shipments. The Chinese market is highly diversified with many smaller players competing with large international brands like Samsung. Smartisan will aim to follow the footsteps of Xiaomi, Oppo, Coolpad and others in carving out a niche of its own in the Chinese market. By playing at premium price point, it will try to avoid directly competing with many of these brands and instead go head to head with Apple.


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