As a Chinese-American from California currently living in Hong Kong, I am about as blessed as possible to be able to cover gadgets. After all, the world’s most important software and apps all come from northern Cali (an hour’s flight from my home), while almost all the hardware (and some very crucial apps and software, too) are built in Shenzhen (an hour’s train ride from my other home).
While the average consumer in the west may still think of Chinese tech companies as copycats, that mentality is outdated and, quite frankly, ignorant. China’s tech companies have gone from followers to innovation leaders in their respective fields in record time.
(Take Xiaomi, for example. The company’s products may have started out as a bit of an iPhone ripoff, but not anymore: its new bezel-less phone makes the recent Apple and Google phones look clunky and primitive)
The latter is why Wired magazine and Financial Times called Shenzhen “The Silicon Valley of Hardware,” and why Apple will soon open an R&D hub there.
It’s also why I began making regular trips across the border — because there’s just so many stories to tell. A week after I visited the headquarters of Meizu , I went back to China and visited the offices of four companies in one day.
1: Xiro, dronemaker
My first visit of the day was to the offices of Xiro , China’s second-largest drone maker (behind the world-leading DJI), located at the futuristic looking Shenzhen Hi-Tech Park in the Nanshan district of the city. This is where several of the biggest Chinese tech companies are located, and the view from Xiro’s office inside CES tower offers an expansive view that overlooks the offices of Lenovo, ZTE, and Tencent.
The latter, actually, backed Xiro in a joint-project this past January.
Xiro’s first release, the quadcopter drone dubbed Xplorer (2,499 RMB, aka $383), garnered rave reviews from serious drone users for its industrial design, flying height of 120 meters and strong wind-resistance. But to appeal to the average Joes, the company followed with a smaller, cheaper drone , named the Xplorer Mini. This was the one I got to fly.
Unlike the “professional” Xplorer, which is operated with a remote control, the Mini is operated with a smartphone. Within a few seconds of syncing, I was flying the thing inside Xiro’s office … with a lot of help from Zheng Jianhong, creative director of Xiro.
The Mini is designed to fly indoors safely, Zheng said, explaining the drone’s indoor positioning system.
“Basically, it shoots an ultrasonic sonar that tracks the drone’s position in relation to the floor,” he said.
But why would one want to fly a drone indoor? Well, Xiro wants the Mini to be something people use when they need to take selfies at, say, a party or a bar. Seriously, the company’s marketing the Mini as “The Ultimate Selfie Drone.”
“The Mini’s got a 13-megapixel camera, with a f/2.8 aperture, and it shoots videos at 1080p at 30 frames per second,” Zheng says, running off a list of stats. To make a long story short, the camera is good enough to capture photos of you and your friends from odd angles. Who needs a selfie stick when you have a drone?
A much better use of the Mini, in my opinion (I hate selfies), is to use it to track your skateboard/bicycle ride. The software engineers at Xiro have developed an image recognition algorithm (Xiro’s drones uses Qualcomm chips). Once it’s locked on, it’ll follow you wherever you go. Sort of like that killer drone from Furious Seven.
Xiro’s got more products coming out this year, including the Maverick, a really powerful, fully spec’ed out pro drone that will sell for $1,000.
“We kind of have a different type of drone for everyone,” Zheng said.
2: Yunmai, pushing for a healthy lifestyle
Next up I visited Yunmai, a small startup producing smart scales that measure not just weight, but BMI (body mass index), bone mass, water percentage, bodyfat percentage and visceral fat. The latter two are very important, and something that most people overlook.
When the average Joe think of getting into shape, they tend to just focus on shredding weight. Conversely, many people mistake higher weight with being fat. The reality is, dropping bodyfat percentage and visceral fat is far more important. The former measures your overall percentage of your body that is fat, and the latter is fat stored inside your abdominal cavity, which can obstruct organs, making this type of fat far more dangerous than, say, a double chin or flabby arms. Often, newbie excercisers just look at the number on a traditional scale to determine if their days/weeks of workouts have been effective, when they should be focusing on adding muscle and lowering their bodyfat percentage.
Currently, Yunmai has two product lines, the main Yumai line, and the Color line. Functionally, they actually do the same thing — track bodyfat with Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis — but the main line is made of ITO advanced conductive coating, while the Color is just tempered glass, according to Yunmai’s overseas operations specialist, who goes by the name Jemmy.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a smart scale without an app, and Yunmai’s designers have crafted a colorful software interface filled with bubbly cartoon avatars. When I stepped on the scale after syncing, results showed up on my phone in real time. Like wearables such as Fitbit, the Yunmai app encourages users to step on the scale every day to keep track of process. It even has animations for if you’ve gained or lost fat.
Sadly, the results told me I have to step away from the keyboard and excercise more.
3: 700Bike, pushing for a smart cycling culture
Headquartered in Beijing with a R&D department in Shenzhen, 700Bike is another startup with a product that seems similar to what’s already on the market, but with a new IoT twist. The company specializes in crafting foldable, lightweight bicycles with a tracker and a digital display built in. That means cyclists can see not just distance traveled, but also calories burned and miles/km-per-hour when cycling. The bike also has an integrated Bluetooth and GPS setup for real time location and data logging. All of this is powered by a self-recharging power system that requires no charging. No wonder, then, the company won a Red Dot Design award this year.
But none of this would matter if the bike didn’t ride well. I only did a brief test indoors (that means I didn’t get to go full speed or make sharp turns), but the bike passed the eye test. Unlike typical folding bikes, the frame looks clean when in riding form, without very clunky visible hinges. The bike is surprisingly light at around 25 pounds, and my brief time riding was pleasant.
I will do a more in-depth testing next time I visit, but 700 Bike is a company that’s obviously in love with cycling culture. In fact, its founder Zhang Xiangdong quit his job as president of a Nasdaq-listed tech company to start 700Bike.
“We’re named 700Bike because [Zhang] wakes up at 7am everyday to cycle,” explained a rep for the company. “And he hopes other will take up this cycling lifestyle.”
The company's bikes are mostly sold in China right now, but I think a recent collaboration with Muji may help the company expand to other countries.
4: Vivo, the third-largest phonemaker in China
Those who follow the smartphone industry have probably heard of Vivo, which, along with Oppo, came out of nowhere to overtake Xiaomi as China’s third and second largest phonemaker respectively (the top dog is still Huawei). But here’s an open secret that everyone in China knows (but the west may not): Oppo and Vivo are owned by the same company, BBK Electronics.
My visit to the Vivo office was very brief, but I did get the chance to ask a marketing person at Vivo why there’s a need for Vivo and Oppo to exist as two different companies.
“Well, even though we’re owned by the same people, we actually work completely separately,” he said. “There’s almost a rivalry of sorts between us. We don’t interact.”
He added that the two brands tend to take different approach to making handsets.
“Oppo is more aggressive at chasing futuristic tech,” he added. “Vivo is more conservative and tend to stick with what works.”
For example, Oppo’s F1 phone was marketed as “selfie expert” and came with a dedicated LED flash for the front-facing camera. Its N1 was the first phone with a rotating camera. It also made strong pushes to boost charging speed. Like Vivo’s marketing person said, pushing for innovation.
Vivo, meanwhile, focused on putting out solid phones that often ran better. Its X5 Play was the world’s first phone with 6GB of RAM built in (the OnePlus 3 soon followed suit), making for one of the fastest devices of 2016.
The rise of Vivo (and Oppo) in China is ironic, in that, instead of going the online sales route (which Xiaomi excelled in), the companies focused on selling at stores.
“You can’t make that much profits selling online,” said Nick Xu, founder of independent PR firm Beeep. “Oppo and Vivo have much more of a brand presence in stores.”
Another source tells me that in China, stores have grown resentful of phone companies that sell online, because it forces retailers to cut prices to match. So when a brand like Vivo sells almost exclusively offline, stores are willing to push its product.
According to data by research firm IDC , Vivo shipped 14.7 million phones in the second quarter of this year alone, good for a 13% market share in China, a 74.7% growth from 2015.
The Vivo rep said the company’s focused on entering the smart home for 2017.
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A Day In Shenzhen, Hardware Capital Of The World: Drones, Smart Bikes, Scales And Phones have 1866 words, post on www.forbes.com at November 4, 2016. This is cached page on Business News. If you want remove this page, please contact us.