TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Look out Samsung (SSNLF) . A local upstart has displaced your market share in China.
This time it's not Xiaomi, the fabled iPhone lookalike that has crested to first place on low prices, but faced a backlash overseas. The new brand is OPPO Electronics Corp., an unlisted 15-year-old maker of consumer electronics such as Blu-ray players.
Its smartphones ranked as China's fifth most popular in the final quarter last year, market research firm Strategy Analytics says. That means 9% of Chinese smartphone users had one of its handsets.
OPPO jumped into that spot because of name recognition in China, aggressive offline marketing aimed at youth and a cut in subsidies to its rivals. Its Android phones are said to be made as well as anyone else's in a field where it's hard to stand out.
The Guangdong-based brand has pushed Samsung down the list, leaving Apple (AAPL - Get Report) the only foreign vendor with a spot on China's top five, fellow market research firms agree. China matters to smartphone vendors worldwide as the world's largest market. The country received 438 million shipments last year alone -- flattish compared to 2014 but still a tall figure.
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"There was a huge opportunity for the brand to grow after operators started reducing the smartphone subsidy, which affected the major brands such as Lenovo (LNVGY) and Coolpad," said Tay Xiaohan, senior market analyst with tech research firm IDC in Singapore. "OPPO has also been spending a lot on marketing and is heavily involved in sponsorships for popular variety shows and singing competitions in China."
That marketing has endeared the brand to younger Chinese, the analyst said. That effort has pushed OPPO ahead of fellow China-based, Hong Kong-traded upstart developer Coolpad and more established Beijing-based electronics giant Lenovo. Lenovo has been stung by China's slowing economic growth.
Like most Chinese brands, OPPO has also tried to expand its sales offshore, and consumers are receptive. In Taipei, for example, the staff at a major OPPO sales outlet kept busy on a recent Saturday taking questions from passers-by interested in models priced from $209 to $509 -- the more expensive one for a larger screen.
One clerk described OPPO as a "starter brand" for Taiwanese with features such as a two-finger screen swipe that adjusts volume and a three-finger swipe to copy the screen into the phone's photo album.
OPPO can claim "good hardware designs, robust product quality, strong retailer penetration, and rising brand awareness among mass-market consumers," Strategy Analytics said in a Jan. 28 statement.
The brand has accelerated around Asia by spending a lot to market its phones, the IDC analyst said, but it faces "strong competition" from local vendors who sell at lower prices.
Xiaomi has faced patent headwinds in India and high import duties in Brazil, slowing its growth overseas in the Android smartphone space. The company reported a sales drop in the first half of 2015 over the previous six months.
OPPO has a clear signal to grow sales overseas on price and the firming reputation of Chinese smartphone makers overall, said Richard Robinson, China-based tech veteran and founder of app developer Yolu Co. Other hot names from China are locally traded Huawei Technologies and unlisted Vivo Electronics Corp.
"Oppo has surpassed Samsung with their home field advantage and will continue to grow not only in China, but globally," Robinson said. "Most manufacturing of these types of electronics has taken place here in China historically, so it was just a matter of time that the local manufacturing hubs figured out how to more nimbly and cheaply do it on their own."