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China’s top smartphone makers smash data barrier to fight Apple

China’s top three domestic smartphone companies – Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi – have reached an agreement that will allow users to transfer data between their branded devices, an alliance that could challenge Apple’s popularity in the country.

Owners of smartphones from Beijing-based Xiaomi and Guangdong-based Vivo and Oppo will be able to move system and app data seamlessly to a new handset belonging to any of these brands, the companies announced on Wednesday on their respective Weibo accounts.

While Android phone users outside China generally use Google Drive to migrate data when switching devices, that service is unavailable on handsets sold in the mainland Chinese market. Instead, most users in the country rely on third-party data transfer apps, such as Tencent Holdings’ WeSync and Huawei Technologies Co’s Smartphone Clone.

On the other hand, mainland users of Apple’s iPhones can directly move data to a new iOS device through the company’s iCloud service or a Bluetooth and Wi-fi connection.

The new partnership between Xiaomi, Vivo and Oppo, which jointly control nearly half of China’s smartphone market, comes after the country last year saw its steepest fall in smartphone sales in a decade.

Smartphone shipments of Vivo, Oppo and Xiaomi in 2022 plunged 25 per cent, 28 per cent and 24 per cent, respectively, according to data from industry research firm IDC. Apple, which was China’s bestselling smartphone brand in the fourth quarter, recorded a sales drop of 4 per cent for the full year.

The latest move by the three Chinese Android phone makers shows their efforts to boost sales by enhancing consumers’ willingness to upgrade to new devices, while fending off the advance of Apple, said Zhang Yi, founder and chief analyst at Guangzhou-based tech consultancy iiMedia.

“Their alliance comes at a time when the Chinese smartphone market is departing from high growth and dealing with weakening demand,” said Zhang. “If the companies still hold on to their sealed-off ecosystem, it’ll cost the whole industry the opportunity to grow.”

However, the move alone may have limited impact on sales, according to Zhang.

“I don’t think [the companies] can just count on such a tie-up to weather the weak consumer demand,” Zhang said.

Analysts widely expect smartphone sales to remain under pressure in China this year, as budget consumers limit their spending, while the more affluent ones choose to splurge instead on overseas travel after the lifting of pandemic restrictions.

Still, many Chinese internet users applauded the move by Xiaomi, Vivo and Oppo to create a smoother data-migration process for users.

“Awesome, I’ll be able to seamlessly switch to a Xiaomi phone,” Weibo user Biedanghanhansheng commented under Oppo’s announcement on Weibo.

This is not the first time that China’s biggest smartphone brands have tried to break the file-transfer barrier between their devices.

In 2019, Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi set up a wireless transfer protocol that mirrors Apple’s AirDrop function, which allows iPhone users to move images, video and other files directly between smartphones using Bluetooth and Wi-fi. South China Morning Post

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