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The Next Big Thing

Breezing into the smartphone market: Gree, China’s top air-conditioner, announces new device

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 March, 2015, 12:58pm
UPDATED : Friday, 27 March, 2015, 4:24pm

Air-conditioning powerhouse Gree Electric, one of the most popular air-conditioner brands in China, will release its first smartphones within six months, taking on a tough market filled with big rivals including Xiaomi.

Gree will release a high-end smartphone model as well as a version aimed at bargain-lovers, according to Dong Mingzhu, chairman and president of the Zhuhai-based company, in an interview with news portal QQ Tech.

It was the first time she acknowledged that the company would be releasing smartphones in the market. Speculation about the release had been rife after she briefly flaunted a smartphone with a Gree logo on its back during a university lecture in Guangzhou on March 18.

Gree, the world’s largest specialised air conditioner manufacturer by sales, began to consider making its own smartphones two years ago, Dong said, adding that the firm's management had been using a prototype for two months.

“If we were less demanding, our phones can hit the market anytime. But the management and myself want to keep on doing tests for pressure, drops and heat,” the 60-year-old was quoted as saying in Boao, Hainan province, where she was taking part in a business forum.

She did not reveal the specifications for the new handsets, though the report cited an unnamed source as saying Shenzhen-based ZoweeTechnology would be a supplier.

She said the smartphones would have features that let them connect with other Gree appliances including air-conditioners.

Technology firms on the mainland are racing to team up with appliance makers to make smart air conditioners, refrigerators, rice cookers, air purifiers and many other devices that could be controlled by handsets.

China's leading smartphone maker Xiaomi, often known as the "Apple of China", invested 1.2 billion yuan (HK$1.5 billion) in Guangdong-based electrical goods manufacturer Midea Group in December.

E-commerce giant Alibaba Group invested 2.2 billion yuan in Shandong-based manufacturer Haier Group in 2013 and the two jointly launched Haier Ali TV in November. 

But Gree’s Dong, consistently named one of the mainland’s most powerful businesswomen, seeks to break the mould. She has previously said that if Gree made smartphones, they would be so good that owners would not have to get new ones in three years.

Born into a working-class family, she studied statistics at a vocational school in Nanjing and worked at a research institute for 15 years. She joined Gree in 1990 as a salesperson, where she rose to become sales director within five years and then president in 2001.

Dong has since transformed Gree from a sleepy domestic brand into a world-leading manufacturer, with 2014 revenue exceeding 140 billion yuan.