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June 25, 2017

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The rise to dominance of Chinese smartphones in Singapore

SINGAPORE--Singapore consumers love their low-priced China smartphones.

In less than eight minutes, the first shipment of the China-made Redmi phone from handset maker Xiaomi were snapped up at its online launch in Singapore last Friday.

Instead of selling the SG$169 (US$135.41) phones in stores, Xiaomi Singapore sold them online. The company declined to say how many sets were sold but, late last year, the company launched in Hong Kong and Taiwan with sales of 10,000 Hongmi units in each location.

All three telcos in Singapore will start selling the phones tomorrow.

Even before Xiaomi launched the Redmi, the first English-language version of its Hongmi device, China phones have earned a cult following in Singapore, due mainly to their low prices.

Popular China brands include ZTE, Huawei and Lenovo, who ship Android devices to parts of Europe, North America and Japan.

The popularity of smartphones from China is not tracked, as local distributors are known to bring in small shipments and sell them without an operator contract.

Factors such as a smaller local market and an oversaturation of handset brands available in Singapore have been given as reasons why some China brands, such as Lenovo, have not launched smartphones in Singapore.

"We are focused first on developing our brand, ecosystem and channel in new markets. Once the conditions are suitable, we will be ready to bring Lenovo's world-leading smartphones to Singapore and all other markets that apply," explained a spokesman for Lenovo Singapore.

Unfortunately, it is also not a simple case of buying China brand smartphones in bulk from China and reselling them in Singapore.

The Chinese authorities allow only free apps to be made available on Google's Play Store, so there is a proliferation of third-party app stores in Android devices sold in China.

In other words, those who buy a cheap Android device in China will not get the full suite of Google Play Store services when they try to use the phone anywhere else in the world.

China companies who export their phones will install in their devices software which enables the Google Play Store, but these phones are not sold in China.

Based on similar hardware specifications, Android phones from China are cheaper than their counterparts from Taiwan and South Korea.

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