China phones as they are been called over the years have passed through a phase of meaning fake cheap phones to meaning phones with same features with the world’s best phones like Samsung, iPhones, Motorola etc at a cheaper price.
It was April 2004 that I personally came across the first china phone in Nigeria, the time at which people have embraced cell phones in Nigeria and demanded more features from the popular mobile phones available then like Nokia, Samsung, Eriksson, Siemens etc.
My first encounter with a china phone was on a bus shuttling from Mile 2 to somewhere within the Apapa axis of Lagos State, Nigeria. We were held up in little packets of traffic stops and the midday heat was making me and just about everyone else egdy, then enters a deafening sound that startled almost everyone, it was so loud and disturbing that the thought of the sound coming from a phone was unfathomed. The mystery was immediately resolved when this middle aged man pulled out the “noise source” from his pocket, ended the noise, and preceded with a “hello”……. This was the first time i had heard a phone ring that loud. Its sound was unconventionally loud and the sound quality harsh. On close examination, i found the name of the phone to be “NOKIQ” written in semblance to one of the most powerful brands NOKIA. The screen was large but the graphic user interface was very sharp on the contrast and brightness. Long story short, it looked like poor imitation of a product that was already on the market. This marked the ever first phase of china phones in Nigeria.
These phones were cheap, they look like a sham, but they were very efficient. These phones even dared to posses features that their European and American counterparts didn’t. Features like dual SIM slots, and local Chinese games. One thing was certain. These new kids on the block meant business. They had acquired, they were imitating and where bent on overtaking their more recognized rivals.
Most of the china phones in Nigeria at the time were made by rogue companies who were in the business strictly for piracy. Phone names like SAMSONG, ERIKSSQN and NOKING were the most common Chinese imitations available; of course the names were deliberately spelt wrong so as to avoid the appropriate authorities.
It was a catch with low income earners. But some Nigerians for reasons of poor aesthetic qualities stayed away from these Chinese phones. It was for some a social taboo to be found with these phones.
A year later enters what appeared to be a game changer. A new breed of branded Chinese phones began to flood the Nigerian market. They looked smart and more refined and not forgetting that their phones now came with a pack of complete accessories that had a more comprehensive user manual that wasn’t all written in mandarin.
The Ningbo Bird company founded in 1992 was ahead of the pack having won several awards in China including “The China Famous Brand” award in 2003. Bird phones like the S288, S1160, S1160 plus and S1186 were instant favorites. There was still a very mild sense of imitation in terms of phone build but you had to credit their competitive perseverance to play with the big kids on the block. More Nigerians began to reconsider their once choleric view of these china phones to a more accommodating one. These phones once known for bad quality began to have some semblance of professionalism. Most people then don’t consider such phones as china phones as it was then settled that the name china phone means cheap fake phones which a brand like bird was not, so it was not considered a “china phone”.
Meanwhile other Chinese phone makers who were still in the business of piracy started making bolder statements in terms of how ruthless they would attack their victims. Their phones would now be identical in build and carry the exact same brand name of their-would be prey. Nokia and Samsung where hit the hardest. Other chiness phone makes came into the show and starting making similar phones to those making imitations but they carried their own indigenous names like Tecno, iTel etc. But most of these phones even with their suppose cool features can still be identified as china fake phones with very harsh loud sounds, no internal memory as most will have just 200kb internal storage. This marked the second phase of china phones in Nigeria.
Fast-forward several years later when smart phones would make a debut in Nigeria, china phones didn’t take long to respond to the challenge. While the whole world was being wowed by the vicious tech-war between the likes of Apple, Samsung, LG, and Motorola. China phones weren’t that far behind. As usual they started out making poor imitations of already existing smart phones.
The transition from making poor imitations to actually coming up with something indigenous didn’t take long owing to the facts that first of all, the most popular operating system for smart phones. The Google Android was Open Source meaning that anyone could use use/manipulate the OS without fears of being hunted down for piracy. This would save the time and cost it would take to develop an operating system which was the most difficult thing to do on a smart phone at the time. This marks the third phase of china phones in Nigeria.
Secondly, Many Chinese powerhouses that were already a household name in the supply of telecommunication equipment began to venture into the smart phone industry. Huawei, ZTE Cooperation, HTC, and Lenovo Cooperation were financially capable to undertake the smart phone challenge. And they did it superbly. They were now able to match the firepower of their western and Korean/Japanese competitors. Soon other Chinese companies like Xiaomi, Tecno Mobile, Infinix, Innjoo and Gionee joined the smart phone race and have been very successful as most Nigerians now have come to embrace the fact that just because it’s a china phone doesn’t make it a fake phone. Now about 3 out of every 5 Smart Phones in Nigeria are made by Chinese companies.
It’s been more than a decade since these phones took the Nigerian market by storm. From being the rejected stone to being the chief cornerstone. Currently pushing big names like Blackberry, Nokia and Motorola almost out of the market.
They came. They saw and they indeed conquered.