The Mobile Web Beyond Apple and Samsung

Published on .

A handful of recent articles reminded me of the fallacy of limiting our view of the mobile landscape to devices manufactured by Apple and Samsung. While those manufacturers sell amazing devices (and a lot of them), they’re hardly the only companies producing devices. Moreover, in many countries, they aren’t the dominant players.

Back in January, Mat Honan reported for Wired the first hackathon. Participants contended with low-end devices running on slow, high-latency networks akin to those in the developing world. Of the devices, Mat writes:

The most common smartphone in the world is, according to Ericsson, the K-Touch W619. It has a single core processor, and a 3.5-inch display with 480×320 resolution. When you hear about the next billion people going online, that’s the kind of device they’re going to use to do it.

The most common smartphone in the world is produced by the Beijing-based K-Touch running Aliyun OS, an obscure fork of the Android operating system.

Last week, The Verge reviewed the Moto E, Motorola’s new $129 contract-free phone running Android 4.4. In the article, reviewer Vlad Savov reports that “after only six months on the market, the [more expensive Moto] G is already Motorola’s best-selling smartphone ever, and is presently the top seller in Mexico and Brazil.”

The top-selling smartphone in two countries with a combined population of 318 million is made by a distant-fourth-place manufacturer (in the United States, that is).

Two days later, Vlad reported on the upcoming Xiaomi Mi Pad, a $240 Chinese-made iPad mini knock-off. Vlad’s article reminded me of this Techcrunch report from last August identifying the Xiaomi MI-2S as the most popular phone in China, beating out Samsung’s most-recent S4 device. An update at the bottom of the article notes that Xiaomi sold out its initial 100,000 unit run of the $130 Hongmi phone in 90 seconds (with a reported 7.45 million reservations placed).

The most popular phone in China (with its 1.36 billion people) runs MIUI, another heavily-customized version of the Android operating system.

None of the above implies that you should rush out immediately and buy devices from K-Touch, Motorola, or Xiaomi (although you could encourage your local Open Device Lab to), but that you should instead remain mindful of the device landscape beyond Apple and Samsung. It’s a big world out there and as the people of the developing world come online, odds are good they’ll use devices nothing like the one you carry in your pocket.