So many smartphone launches to cover in China: is a bubble in the making?
For tech reporters in China these days, time management is really challenging, thanks to the almost non-stop rounds of launches of all kinds of new products. Sometimes they are forced to choose which company to cover, a dilemma when all are likely to be equally newsworthy.
The next such dilemma is a week away, on May 6 to be exact. That’s when Nubia, the smartphone brand owned by China’s telecoms giant ZTE, and Qihoo 360, one of the most well-known homegrown Internet security service companies, will both unveil new phones at exactly the same time.
It will be the first time for Qihoo 360 to launch a smartphone, and its move into an already highly competitive business both at home and abroad with heavyweight competitors including Apple and South Korea’s Samsung comes as a surprise to many tech industry observers.
The company itself made reference to the scale of the challenge, with a tongue-in-cheek note on the media invitation referring to its founder Zhou Hongyi’s latest ambition:
“Mr. Zhou, why do you want to make mobile phones when it is so late (to join the market). The world is so big. Why do you need to be so wilful?”.
At the bottom, it says that Zhou will answer the question on May 6.
Meanwhile for ZTE, May 6 will mark a milestone for the company when it announces its first Nubia smartphone with a frameless screen. The launch promises to be a grand show, to demonstrate ZTE’s pride in the product, and will take place in the National Aquatics Centre, also known as the “Water Cube”, where the swimming competitions were held during the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
The company already boasts Peng Liyuan, wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping, as a user of its phones.
Sources at ZTE and Qihoo 360 said they were both aware of their competitor’s events on the same day. Some said it was just a coincidence, but it seems to have already become a big headache for the PR teams at the two companies as they try to lobby reporters to attend their event. Many media organisations in Beijing only have one tech reporter.
In my view however, the “coincidence” is more than just that. It is a clear example of how tough competition is in the smartphone business and how crowded the market is. Some industry watchers have even warned of a potential bubble in the industry.
In the past few weeks, my colleagues have received half a dozen invitations for new smartphone events hosted by Chinese technology companies, including LeTV, an online video service company that wants to be China's Netflix, and Meitu, a company popular among the young for its photo editing app.
More are on the way.
It seems that every tech company in China wants to be the next Apple. It’s a nice ambition, but before one or two of them could really become the “Apple of China”, we will need to see how many can survive and how soon the smartphone bubble will burst.
As for May 6, the South China Morning Post will cover both events, because we are lucky enough to have two tech reporters.
George Chen is the managing editor of SCMP.com International Edition. He's also the acting technology editor at the Post. For more Mr Shangkong columns: facebook.com/mrshangkong or follow @george_chen on Twitter