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Snippet: On ‘Chinese knockoffs’ and Why Leica Works with Xiaomi ☇

Shared on November 7, 2023

Sam Byford:

The basic thesis of the feature, which was titled “How China rips off the iPhone and reinvents Android”, was that Chinese phone manufacturers develop their products for people with very different needs and wants to those in the West. These companies are all essentially forced to develop their own operating system atop open-source Android because of the lack of Google services in China, but the domestic dominance of “super app” WeChat and the popularity of custom themes makes it harder — or even less desirable — to develop a standout style of their own.

Unlike the US, the Chinese phone market is extremely competitive from top to bottom. At the high end you have Apple, of course, then there are Android options from Huawei, Oppo, Xiaomi, and Vivo, all of which make legitimately excellent hardware at this point. Those four companies all have full portfolios of flagship phones, including folds and flips, and they also offer solid options at entry level and the midrange. […]

I don’t think [Sebastiaan] de With meant it this way, but to highlight Xiaomi as a “Chinese” company when dismissing its products as “knock-offs” evokes an outdated stereotype. Is what Xiaomi does any more shameless than US companies like Meta lifting Stories from Snapchat — or more pertinently, Reels from TikTok? When Google directly copied iOS’ gesture navigation after iterating on a bunch of worse versions, I didn’t hear anyone lamenting a dearth of American creativity. […]

That brings me to hardware, and why Leica would work with Xiaomi as a partner. Leica is undeniably an aspirational brand for a lot of Chinese consumers. What it sees in Xiaomi is a popular, accessible domestic brand that puts out quality products, particularly when it comes to camera hardware. What Xiaomi gets in return is a high-end brand that can genuinely differentiate the camera experience on its phones.

I found this to be a fascinating read, primarily because the Chinese phone market is so different than so many other places in the world and it’s not iOS vs. Android as we’re used to. In some ways, it reminds me of the weird, fun world of unlocked dumbphones of the early 2000s, where there were all sorts of not-sold-by-US-carriers-but-worked-on-them models from Europe and elsewhere that had things like co-branded cameras or strange form factors. I think it’s also really nice to have assumptions and worldviews challenges, especially since we like to think of tech as monolithic everywhere in the world.

Snippets are posts that share a linked item with a bit of commentary.