Monday, March 6, 2017

Retro Phones

Once famous mobile phones such as Nokia's classic 3310 from the turn of the century have been given a new lease of life as Chinese manufacturers revive Western brands to get an edge in an increasingly cut-throat handset market.

Apple and Samsung lead the smartphone pack worldwide but impressive growth in the Chinese market has left room for a host of home-grown manufacturers to come to the fore, with China's Huawei now third in the world.

Within China, Oppo surged to become market leader last year and it is expanding rapidly in Asia to stand fourth in the world rankings, even if its brand is little known in developed and increasingly stagnant Western markets. A closely related Chinese brand, Vivo, has muscled its way into fifth place globally.

What this means, though, is that former Chinese market leaders, such as Lenovo and TCL Communications, are losing ground, and some are counting on retro Western brands to revive their fortunes at home and abroad.

Emerging from a sea of indistinguishable smartphones, the showstopper at this year's main European technology trade fair was a revival of the Nokia (NOKIA.HE) 3310, its brightly colored cases and month-long battery life tugging at the heartstrings of erstwhile fans in search of a digital detox.

The new phone was launched by Finnish firm HMD Global, led by former Nokia executives and backed financially by Chinese electronics giant Foxconn, which makes devices for Apple and Sony, among others.

Priced at 49 euros, the 3310 is meant to appeal to old fans in the West as well as finding a new generation of younger users in emerging markets looking for a good-looking reliable phone.

The BlackBerry made a splash at the Barcelona trade fair too thanks to China's TCL Communicatio, which unveiled a BlackBerry-licensed handset with the physical keyboard many professionals clung onto even as Apple's iPhone revolutionized the smartphone market. BlackBerry Ltd supplies the phone's security software.

TCL, which is part of a group that makes appliances ranging from TVs to washing machines, has kept France's Alcatel brand alive for a decade. TCL-Alcatel is now the world's 10th biggest smartphone maker, according to research firm Strategy Analytics.

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