The Accessory Benefiting Most from Low Cost Android Phones

Every year I walk the little known back halls of CES where the Chinese/Shenzhen manufacturers show off products coming out of the their manufacturing ecosystem. Given the global influence of the Shenzhen manufacturing ecosystem, I go to the halls to learn more about the China market and see what’s the new hot item China is manufacturing.

I was the first to spot and tweet about the Apple watch knockoffs in this area. Nearly every major media outlet asked me where I found it and ran stories of their own later in the week. Here was one of three booths selling Apple Watch knockoff hardware.

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While this was interesting, it was also expected, and not the most compelling thing I saw in the area. Many vendors had extremely low cost tablets and have had them for the many years I’ve explored these halls. Selfie sticks were also seen in a number of booths in a wide variety of styles and designs. Whatever I see in many booths tells me what is moving in large volumes out of this ecosystem. Interestingly, the thing I saw being sold at more booths than any was elegantly designed external battery packs.

There were more booths offering a huge menu of external battery backs than any other single product in the Shenzhen area. They came in all types of colors, sizes, and designs. Some were wrapped in unique material like wood.

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Some were gigantic bricks offering 8000 mAh or more. I inquired about the use case of these external battery packs. The answer seemed quite obvious — Chinese consumers are on their phones so much they kill the battery extremely quickly. For those who take public transportation like trains or buses very long distances, they watch an enormous amount of video or play hours of games during these commutes. So, a common use case is to have one of these very large battery packs and keep the phone plugged into it while watching movies or playing games.

As I inquired about the different sizes of these battery packs, the guy at the booth explained the size of the brick depends on how long a person is going to be way from a power outlet. Many leave their home in the morning and aren’t near a power outlet all day while at school or work. Therefore, they get these huge battery bricks so it can last them a day and often more. He also added it was not uncommon to see Chinese consumers watching video on the train or on lunch breaks with their phones plugged into these bricks. My takeaway is, for many Chinese consumers, these bricks are their power outlets. It became clear after chatting with a few of these vendors not only are Chinese consumers on their phones much more than the average Western consumer, but power outlets are also hard to come by in their day to day routines. These external power bricks are a third world solution to a third world problem. But this also points out another interesting element.

Most Chinese consumers have very inexpensive smartphone hardware, running somewhat sketchy and low cost and quality Lithium Ion batteries. It seems plausible the common battery issue is, by nature, also a by product of the lack of quality hardware owned by the masses who can only afford a lower-end phone. Given this reality, companion battery packs seem a viable solution to a real problem. This will not only be the case in China but all throughout SE Asia, India, and many other emerging markets.

All of this highlights the extreme differences between the lower tier of the smartphone market and the higher end. Both of these markets have significant opportunities but it seems the opportunities are at different ends of the spectrum. All of this strengthens the position I outline in this report about Google’s conundrum. All the growth in smartphones will come from this lower tier where there are entirely different problems to solve.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

8 thoughts on “The Accessory Benefiting Most from Low Cost Android Phones”

  1. “All of this highlights the extreme differences between the lower tier of the smartphone market and the higher end. ”
    But, does it ? Over a third of my iPhone-equipped friends have a Mophie so they can last all day (and another third finds a way to recharge at some point during the day), and quite a few, iOS or Android combined, also have battery bricks for trips/events.My iBrother specifically asked me for one with several charging ports so he could be a hero to his iColleagues.
    I don’t think low vs high end is the defining factor here. You’ve got high-end phones that don’t pack that much juice (iPhones before the 6 series were clear offenders), and mid-range phones that do run for quite long (some Huawei phones for example). BLU and Motorola have special large-bat phones that are decidedly lower-mid-range.
    The surprising thing is that very few people actually swap batteries, when their phone has that feature. I think the whole “switch it off, get to the inside” is a… turn off, and the expense of buying a proprietary internal battery when a much more powerful external one is cheaper and will be usable with other devices doesn’t seem wise.

    1. The point I was getting at, is that battery technology is getting better at the higher end, worse at the low-end. So for those who can afford the more premium devices, this will be less of an issue. Especially with phones going bigger, better SoCs, etc.

      So this remains a much bigger issue in the low-end than the high in my opinion looking forward.

      1. I don’t think battery technology is actually getting worse at the low end. The mismatch between battery capacity vs usage intensity might be growing, but the battery per se… progress is trickling down from the high end, though not fast enough ?
        And at the high end, for every battery capacity progress, we get a stricter “thinness” diktat.

        I think there’s a design conflict, smartphones are schizophrenic beasts
        – phones, ie, switched off 99% of the time
        – fashion accessories, and those have to be thin, for some reason
        – comms+computer+media players that need last a full day of active use

        The OEMs’ obliviousness of that 3rd point is weird, because study after study puts battery life as the #1 user concern. You’d think we’d at least get a choice of model, with a long-life one a few extra mm thick. Nothing but the casing and battery need to change, and some 3rd parties do offer that for removable-battery phones, or even non-removable battery ones.
        Or maybe users are fibbing on questionnaires, “I need more power” does sound smarter than “I want it to make me look good”.

      2. I think that “low-end” is only one part of the equation. These battery packs are also very popular in Japan, which as you know is basically iPhone country. You can find them in every convenience store, and they always have a variety of models to chose from. Even in the feature phone days (feature phone batteries lasted much longer), there were many charging stations where you put in some money, connected your phone to the power outlet, locked the station, and came back 20 minutes later for a fully charged phone. The battery-life of the phone per-se does not determine whether you need an external battery pack or not.

        In my opinion, what is by far the most important is how long you use the phone. In countries where you use public transport to commute and where it may take about an hour or more, smartphones are going to be used heavily to pass the time (as you mention in the article). We already know that high-end phones ending up being used much more, so despite high-end phones having better batteries, they may drain in a shorter time period.

        I would postulate that it is an issue everywhere, except in the rare countries (by population) where most people commute by cars.

        1. Just for your information, an internet survey of 800 users on battery life (in Japanese).

          http://www.softbankselection.jp/hs_batt_enquete/page02.html

          Some notes;

          1. 60% of people who use their phone > 3hr per day have a mobile battery. 20% of them have more than one.
          2. ~70% of these people use it more than once per week, with ~30% using it daily.
          3. 43% of people worry about their batteries when leaving their house in the morning. About the same as whether they’ll be late or if they forgot to switch off the lights.

  2. Ben, Do not forget about the low quality of the some of the software that run on Android devices versus iOS devices. I think we have all seen situations where a all it takes is one bad app to cause our battery to drain down quickly. At least on iOS with the much more profitable ecosystem the iOS app vendors can work on battery life issues as users are more willing to pay for better quality apps. Not only that but for iOS versus Android we have seen Apple pay more attention to battery life issues than Google. Of course it is not all Google’s responsibility. When they release Android to the OEM’s it is up to the OEM’s and associated cell phone carriers to package up a good solution that includes a device that has good battery life. The problem is that the incentives are just not there on many low end Android devices to do so.

    Of course what we really need is the next breakthrough in battery technology but for now the external rechargeable battery packs do fill a void that is needed and are going to be around for some time.

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