A massive glut of commodity smartphones running a stripped-down version of Google’s Android software is coming to market in China, with the potential to upend the mobile phone marketplace and swamp the country’s Internet censors.
Android already accounts for 90% of new smartphone purchases in China, a trend that is alarming the government enough that it is complaining about it. The volume of smartphone shipments in China hit 70 million in the fourth quarter—a 112% year-on-year increase—and the total number of Chinese smartphones is projected to reach a staggering 240 million this year. (That doesn’t include simpler “feature” phones that can’t as easily run software or access the Internet.)
Foreign firms like Samsung were the first to bring Android to China, and homegrown manufacturers like Lenovo—set to become the top-selling Chinese Android handset maker this year—are coming on strong. But they may all be eventually swamped by cheap commoditized handsets from more than a thousand no-name manufacturers, which TechRice’s Kai Lukoff has dubbed “ChinaDroids.” They have chipsets from Taiwan’s Mediatek, run a heavily modified version of the “Ice Cream Sandwich” series of Android, and come preloaded with Chinese apps. By one estimate they already control 40% of the Chinese smartphone market.