Given the difficulties currently being experienced by Huawei when it comes to the American and European markets, it’s likely that we’ll soon be one major smartphone developer down. Huawei will be able to continue trading within their home country of China, but without access to Android’s operating software or any major apps, it’s difficult to see how they can survive elsewhere. When one door closes, though, another one opens. There’s a new manufacturer getting involved in the smartphone business – and it’s a manufacturer like no other we’ve seen before.
The company in question is ByteDance, but it’s far less likely that you’ll have heard of them than their most popular product. ByteDance is the company responsible for TikTok – a short video sharing app which has racked up over a billion downloads among young people while confusing their parents, who don’t understand its purpose. While still considered a startup, it’s considered to be the world’s fastest-growing social media app, and is currently being downloaded at a faster rate than Facebook, WhatsApp, or Instagram. Now, it seems ByteDance want to capitalize on that popularity by releasing what’s being described as a ‘TikTok phone.’
Development Well Underway
Although news of the impending TikTok phone has only just reached us, it would appear that ByteDance has been working on the project for some time. If reports are to be believed, they’ve already acquired patents and a specialist team from established mobile phone manufacturers Smartisan, who are better known in China than they are elsewhere in the world. With the hardware and the expertise already in place, ByteDance can focus on putting together the software -and there’s plenty of evidence that they excel in that field.
TikTok isn’t the only product that ByteDance are responsible for creating. The selfie app FaceU is popular with young people, and they’ve successfully launched several chat and entertainment apps within China. In all cases, their creations are more popular with under-25s than any other demographic. That means their audience is young, and therefore cool. That’s a robust platform upon which to be launching a smartphone. If they’re suddenly seen as cooler and more relevant to the young than the latest iPhone, then based on the sheer size of TikTok’s audience, Apple may suddenly find themselves with an unexpected challenge on their hands.
Lessons From History?
ByteDance might be new to making smartphones, but they’re not the first company to try to break into the market off the back of success in other fields. Facebook experimented with the idea during a brief partnership with HTC, but eventually had to admit defeat and back away slowly. The less said about Amazon’s attempt to get involved with the mobile phone business with the Fire Phone the better – there are still executives within the company sore about the $170m write-down they suffered because of its complete failure. Google eventually succeeded with Google Pixel, but it took them years.
Whereas Facebook and Amazon failed in America, there is precedent for app developers successfully becoming smartphone manufacturers in China. The Chinese app Meitu was developed for people who love taking selfies. When they started making Meitu phones, they developed them according to the principles of what had already made them popular. Meitu phones have powerful cameras mounted on the front of the phone instead of the back, and software that automatically selects the perfect filter for each photo. It’s a phone-based around selfies, but it makes Meitu more money than they could ever have made through the app alone.
Starting A Trend?
At this point, it’s not clear where in the world the proposed TikTok phone will be available. It could yet be a Chinese exclusive – although given the fact that news of the phone has been deliberately published worldwide, that seems unlikely. Presuming there is a European and/or American launch, the established players will be watching on with interest. Apple and Samsung are thrilled that they’ll likely be rid of Huawei within the next year. The last thing either of them wanted or expected was for another company to muscle in on the freshly vacated turf.
Should the concept of a phone-based around an app or service prove to be a success, it could pave the way for other mobile-based apps and services to start releasing specialist phones of their own. It’s not difficult to imagine Facebook making a second attempt to break into pones by essentially copying the Chinese Meitu model, only using Instagram as the selling point. Thinking logically, Uber could also try getting involved by offering phones with enhanced satellite tracking, greater connectivity, and faster access to rides.
Further afield, there would likely be interest in developing mobile technology from the mobile casino world. Gambling through phones is big business worldwide, with millions of people playing online slots every day. Specialist gaming phones, optimized for playing mobile slots, would likely be a hit with people who indulge in the hobby. If special offers, rates or deals on playing mobile slots or accessing mobile slots websites were made available on gaming phones, they would likely be a hit. They could even be considered the adult alternative to the TikTok phone.
The only piece of information lacking from the early reports is how the phones will directly relate to TikTok. As it’s a video sharing app, it might be a case of issuing a phone with a superior camera and recording equipment, but it’s possible to make videos to a high standard with an iPhone and the right set of software tools now. TikTok would have to offer something substantially different to stand out, but it doesn’t make sense for them to consider releasing a phone if they don’t have something up their sleeve. If the reports that the phone has been in development for several months turn out to be accurate, we may not have to wait all that long to find out.
As many people have been pointing out for years now, iPhones and Android phones have more in common than they have differences. The phone market has felt bereft of ideas, and a little stale. We should welcome any viable new products, and this left-field concept could be exactly what we’ve been waiting for.