In Las Vegas, three Chinese Apple iPhone wanna-bees

January 12, 2014: 9:02 AM ET

Plus, two CEOs who have been dubbed the Steve Jobs of China.


CES 2014. Photo: Digital Trends

FORTUNE -- I'm glad it was Tiernan Ray and not me who submitted to briefings by three Chinese smartphone makers -- Huawei, ZTE and Meizu -- at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week. Maybe I've covered too many over-crowded trade shows. Or fielded too many over-caffinated sales pitches in broken English. Or maybe I'm just getting old.

In any event, I learned several things from Ray's write-up in the current issue of Barrons (available free as a one-pass):

  • The highest honorific for a Chinese entrepreneur is to be likened to Apple's (AAPL) co-founder. According to Ray, Meizu CEO Jack Wong and Xiaomi's Lei Jun are both "the Steve Jobs of China."
  • Having clawed their way near the top ranks of smartphone makers on the strength of their sales in China, Huawei (No. 3 globally, according to Strategy Analytics), ZTE (No. 9) and Meizu (No. 24) believe they are ready to take on Apple and Samsung in the U.S. market.
  • Although they heap praise on Apple designs, their approach is more Samsung: Throwing in all sorts of flashy features -- 6.1-inch screens, panoramic selfies, two-day batteries, a single pulsing light that is the lock/unlock button -- to see what sticks.

"The wave of Chinese brands emerging is huge," Strategy Analytics' Neil Mawston told Ray, involving "literally hundreds" of scrappy manufacturers. "If you fire off enough shots," says Mawston, "eventually one of them will hit the target."

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