China’s Gionee offers budget alternative to the iPhone X for a fraction of the price

Shenzhen-based Gionee has launched a range of full-screen smartphones, from premium to entry-level models, that competes directly against the bezel-less handsets from Apple, Samsung, Huawei, Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 November, 2017, 9:00pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 November, 2017, 4:56pm

Chinese mobile phone maker Gionee has thrown down the gauntlet to Apple and its rival brands on the mainland by releasing a family of full-screen smartphones, the cheapest of which sells for a tenth of the price of the iPhone X.

Shenzhen-based Gionee represents the latest Chinese electronics brand to fire a strong salvo at Apple in the world’s biggest smartphone market, which could spoil the US technology giant’s hopes for its tenth anniversary iPhone having a solid and lengthy run on the mainland just like the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus did a few years ago.

Gionee, which sold 40 million smartphones worldwide last year, also threatens to chip away at the huge lead of China’s top-selling smartphone brands - Huawei Technologies, Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi.

Founded in 2002, privately-held Gionee sold 40 million handsets last year, but has not been able to make a significant leap in the smartphone market like what seven-year-old start-up Xiaomi has done. Gionee’s senior management, however, is aiming high and has claimed some bragging rights.

Liu Lirong, the chairman and chief executive of Gionee, said on Sunday at a grand product launch in the southern coastal city of Shenzhen that the company has become the world’s first smartphone supplier to equip all its new handsets with full 18:9 aspect ratio displays.

Gionee has released eight full-screen Android smartphone models, including the premium-category M7 and M7 Plus for professionals, the S-series handsets for younger users, the F-series phones for budget-conscious consumers and “Steel” models known for long battery life.

Analysts expected Gionee’s strategy to help accelerate the worldwide adoption of full-screen, bezel-less smartphones, following Apple’s high-profile international release of the iPhone X earlier this month.

That would also mean higher demand for the advanced, organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays used on Apple’s iPhone X and the full-screen models from the likes of Samsung Electronics, Huawei, Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi.

“I do think that the general industry is moving towards that direction (of 18:9 screens),” said Tay Xiaohan, a senior market analyst at research firm IDC.

Gionee, however, still has a plenty of work to do. The company remained out of the world’s top 10 smartphone brands by shipment volume in the third quarter, according to market research firm Counterpoint.

More than 600 brands shipped a total of 400.5 million smartphones in the three months ended September 30, Counterpoint research analyst Shobhit Srivastava estimated.

He said 75 per cent of that total market last quarter was captured by the industry’s top 10 players, led by Samsung, Apple, Huawei, Oppo and Vivo.

With more trendy and feature-rich full-screen handsets in its portfolio, Gionee now has an opportunity to crack that top tier and become the next major Chinese smartphone brand.

“Gionee’s strategy shows that it has taken a stand on how all of its products are now positioned in the market,” said IDC’s Tay.

While Gionee’s new smartphones are being made widely available in China and India, overseas consumers would be able to purchase the devices from popular online marketplaces, such as AliExpress.

The company recently laid out its ambition to become an important player in the world’s second-largest smartphone market. In September, it announced an investment of 495 million yuan to build factories in India.

Gionee’s new premium-priced flagship model, the M7 Plus, sells for 4,388 yuan (US$667) and comes with a 6.43-inch active-matrix OLED display that is larger than the 5.8-inch display on the iPhone X.

It also comes with fingerprint identification scanner, a so-called dual security encryption chip, 128 gigabytes of storage, 16-megapixel front camera and 8MP front camera, support for wireless charging and a leather finish at the back reminiscent of the luxury mobile phones from Vertu.

The M7 model, with prices starting from 2,799, was initially introduced by Gionee in September and features a 6.01-inch display, slightly bigger than the iPhone X screen. The M7 now comes in red and gold-coloured editions.

Apple’s 256-GB iPhone X, with a 9,688-yuan price tag, and Huawei’s 128GB Mate 10 Pro, which costs 5,399 yuan, remain the most expensive, premium full-screen smartphones available in China.

Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi’s full-screen flagship smartphones are priced between 3,000 yuan and 4,000 yuan.

Prices for Gionee’s new S-series handsets start from 1,799 yuan. These include the S11, the S11S and S11 Lite models, each of which comes with a 5.7-inch display.

Some of the company’s new budget-prixed smartphones, those priced from 999 yuan, do not have a bezel-less design even with 18:9 aspect ratio displays.