• Tue
  • Sep 30, 2014
  • Updated: 2:01am
Corporate China
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 August, 2014, 11:51am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 August, 2014, 10:01pm

Weibo: Execs joust in smartphone war, remember Robin Williams

BIO

Doug Young has lived and worked in China for 15 years, much of that as a journalist for Reuters writing about Chinese companies. He currently lives in Shanghai where he teaches financial journalism at Fudan University. He writes daily on his blog, Young’s China Business Blog (www.youngchinabiz.com), commenting on the latest developments at Chinese companies listed in the US, China and Hong Kong. He is also author of a new book about the media in China, “The Party Line: How the Media Dictates Public Opinion in Modern China.”
 

I generally try to avoid writing too much about smartphones in this space, since the blogosphere often seems like little more than a soap box for high-tech execs to hype their latest products. But a series of exchanges between some of the industry's top executives provided a fascinating snapshot of the current price wars now gripping China, as companies try to undercut each other to see who can offer the cheapest models. Meantime, some of those same executives were poking fun at the recent news that a famous Chinese comedian was planning to enter the space, again reflecting how overheated the market has become.

Elsewhere on a more solemn note, executives from some of China's leading tech firms were also paying tribute in the blogosphere to Robin Williams, praising the US comedian for his ability to make other people laugh despite his own depression that ended with his suicide last week.

I've written quite a bit already about China's ongoing smartphone price wars, sparked by a bloody battle for dominance by recent market entrants including Lenovo (0992.HK), ZTE (0763.HK; Shenzhen: 000063), Huawei and Xiaomi. Just last week Huawei announced a price reduction to 799 yuan (HK$1,000), or just $130, for a new 4G model meant to compete with a similar one from Xiaomi at the same price.

In the latest development, Xiaomi co-founder and vice president Li Wanqiang threw down the gauntlet on his microblog by announcing his company would reduce the price for its low end Redmi model to 699 yuan starting on August 16. Huawei smartphone executive Wu Dezhou responded by revealing his company was preparing to roll out a new 4G phone from its Honor brand for just 599 yuan, challenging Xiaomi to match that price.  

Wu's boss, Huawei smartphone chief Yu Chengdong, quickly followed by noting that at the current rate of price cutting, real smartphones would soon be cheaper than the abundant knock-offs, known as shanzhai, that China is famous for. Newly launched niche smartphone maker OnePlus CEO Liu Zonghu noted there was no way his firm could compete in such price wars; and ZTE executive Lu Qianhao finished the verbal jousting by suggesting Xiaomi was selling its phones at a loss and encouraging the company's chief executive Lei Jun to keep lowering his prices

While those executives were busy sparring on prices, another group were poking fun at comedian Wang Zijian, after media reported the actor famous for performing in the traditional xiangsheng cross-talk genre was preparing to launch his own smartphone line. Wang's move would come after another celebrity, English language instruction guru Luo Yonghao, also launched his own line of smartphones called Smartisan in May.

ZTE smartphone executive Luo Hongping started off the banter by reposting a report on Wang's business move, and commenting how it reflected the state of chaos that has gripped the domestic smartphone market. His colleague Zeng Xuezhong joked that product launch ceremonies would soon become comedy performances. Those remarks prompted Qihoo 360 (NYSE: QIHU) CEO Zhou Hongyi to come to Wang's defense, which comes amid recent speculation that Qihoo itself was planning to enter the market.  

While verbal jousting and banter were the main subjects in the smartphone space, the tone was far more somber on the subject of Robin Williams, following the comedian's suicide last week after battling a bout of severe depression. A number of tech executives paid tribute to Williams, including officials from Qihoo 360, e-commerce giant JD.com (Nasdaq: JD), and a China-based official from leading global smartphone chip maker Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM).

Qihoo 360 vice president Yu Guangdong summed up much of the sentiment by noting how difficult it is to be a good comedian and enter other people's worlds to make them laugh. Yu and the others also sympathized with Williams' depression, in a replay of similar discussions worldwide on the contradictory nature of Williams' character as people mourned the death of one of the leading comedians of a generation.

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