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BBK Electronics: Meet the world’s 2nd largest smartphone manufacturer you’ve probably never heard of

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Apple and Samsung are undeniably the most popular smartphone brands today. Shipping almost 300 million units last 2019, Samsung easily beats the pack to become the world’s largest phone manufacturer. All of this is expected because everybody’s heard about Samsung, and everybody either owns a Samsung phone or knows somebody who does.

But what do you know about BBK Electronics, the world’s second-largest phone manufacturer? Last 2019, BBK Electronics shipped more than 250 million units and grabbed a sizeable 18% global market share in the last quarter. For most of you who have never heard of BBK before, this is all very confusing. How can such a big player in the phone industry be so out of your radar?

In truth, you actually may have already heard about BBK Electronics, but you better know them through their brands. BBK is the parent company of multiple famous smartphone brands like OPPO, Vivo, OnePlus, and Realme. By overseeing these top-performing brands, BBK Electronics is a giant in the industry and is foreseen to overtake Samsung as the largest phone manufacturer in the coming years.

To get to know more about this Chinese company, let’s visit BBK Electronics’ rich background and history, from their obscure beginnings up to their worldwide domination.

The man behind the brand: Duan Yongping

The early successes of BBK Electronics can be attributed to one Duan Yongping, a Chinese billionaire investor and entrepreneur. Widely regarded as the godfather of the Chinese smartphone industry, Duan successfully established several popular brands like OPPO and Vivo, not only in their home country but also worldwide. Duan is one of the key figures that truly cemented China on the map as a leading player in the smartphone industry.

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Duan started out his electronics career in 1989 by joining the Zhongshan Yihua Group and setting up a manufacturing unit for educational game consoles, much like Nintendo’s Famicom computers but sold at a much lower price. The consoles became really popular in mainland China, giving the Yuhua group all-time high profits of 1 billion yuan in 1995.

Despite this success, Duan left the Yuhua group that same year after having his proposal of spinning out the manufacturing unit into a new company rejected. Duan then set out to establish BBK Electronics from the ground up, in which he held a controlling 70% stake. BBK in Chinese stands for Bu Bu Gao (步步高), which translates into “higher with every step” — something that the company truly exemplified through the years.

BBK’s early years in the 1990s and 2000s

Ever since its founding in 1995, BBK Electronics was determined to bring their innovation to three fields of electronics: communications, audiovisuals, and education electronics. BBK’s first moves included feature phones and corded phones, VCD and DVD players, as well as handheld language teaching devices in both Chinese and English.

However, BBK encountered a slump as the demand for feature phones declined with the start of the smartphone era in the 2000s. “Making mobile phones is not my call,” said Duan in a rare interview, as he talked about once considering to close the company. But a stroke of genius made Duan try their hand on the growing smartphone market, while still embodying their three verticals.

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Duan began spinning out BBK into separate and independent business entities that each captured one of the company’s target segments. This effectively dropped his BBK stake from a whopping 70% to a modest 17%. In 2004, the OPPO Electronics Corp. was founded to lead the audiovisuals segment, and this was later followed by Vivo Communication Technology Co. in 2009 for communications.

Not long after, BBK further diversified its portfolio by establishing new companies like OnePlus, Realme, and the more recent iQOO just last year. With a slightly bumpy start, BBK Electronics was able to capture a large chunk of the market year after year by infusing their products with innovations and technologies from their three cores, all sold with a competitive price tag.

While BBK’s brands are sisters under one overarching parent company, they are independent of one another and compete with each other on the market (OPPO vs Vivo, most clearly). Let’s take a closer look at the different brands BBK has on its belt, all offering something unique to the table.  

OPPO: From MP3 players to game-changing camera technology

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OPPO, the most recognizable name under the BBK group of brands, was founded in 2004 to focus on the audiovisuals segment. OPPO was first envisioned to create DVD, MP3, and Blu-Ray players to capitalize on BBK’s early success within that market. In fact, OPPO’s first product was a portable tear-shaped MP3 player called the OPPO X3. Their other products included amplifiers and headphones.

It was long before OPPO branched out to take their spin on smartphones, as the market leaned more and transitioned towards mobile handhelds. It was only in 2012 that OPPO released its first smartphone, the OPPO Ulike 2, the first phone to have a built-in beautifying feature with its camera. But ever since then, OPPO has been at the forefront of innovation in the industry.

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OPPO’s innovations mostly focused on groundbreaking camera technology and sleek displays, ultimately scoring a lot of firsts in the smartphone race. Some of their landmark technologies include the OPPO N1’s motorized rotating camera, which can rotate up to 206 degrees with a simple touch of a fingerprint sensor, and the OPPO R9’s new and improved IMX398 sensor, revolutionizing image quality under low-light conditions.

And how can we forget about OPPO’s recent advancements like the Find X’s retractable motor that hides the camera, and the OPPO Reno’s 10X Lossless Zoom technology for ultra-wide-angle shots? First-mover innovations are OPPO’s top game, and there’s definitely so much more to look forward to with this beloved brand.

Vivo: Everything new and exciting

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After OPPO’s strong early success in the market, Vivo was the next company hat sprung out of BBK Electronics. Founded in 2009, Vivo was positioned to be the stronghold of BBK for the communications segment. Where OPPO started by creating MP3 players, Vivo focused on smartphones from the getgo, envisioning to produce forward-thinking devices that are full of innovation.

Despite being relatively new in the smartphone industry, Vivo has already grown and evolved into a leader in the market. Sales-wise, Vivo often goes against its sister company OPPO to be the fifth-largest manufacturer worldwide. And design-wise, Vivo has pioneered several of the latest and greatest tech debuts in the field. It’s often considered as the R&D unit of the BBK group, with its quick development of new innovations that are immediately incorporated into the brand’s flagship phones.

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Vivo specializes in hardware design and Hi-Fi audio, with their phones sporting sleek lines and booming audio, amongst other impressive specs. Since 2012, Vivo has been making some noise when it was the first brand to offer a phone with a dedicated Hi-Fi audio chip when they released the Vivo X1.

Some of Vivo’s most recent developments include an in-display fingerprint sensor, ultra-thin bezels for maximum screen display, and a crazy 120W fast charging solution.

Vivo even holds a Guinness World Record for the thinnest smartphone with the 2015 release of the X5 Max, measuring at just 4.75 mm and with no loss of functionality. And that mindset of progress with no compromise remains with Vivo through all of their devices.

OnePlus: Affordable flagship smartphone, Clean OS, global premium reach

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While OPPO and Vivo planned to dominate their Chinese home country before expanding to other Asian and Western markets, OnePlus already had global ambitions from the very beginning. Just months after its founding in 2013 and the release of its first phone in China, OnePlus already started selling its devices in the US and in Europe. And this strategy paid off — OnePlus is currently the most recognized brand in the global market out of the BBK group.

Despite being completely separate entities, OnePlus does share a lot of similarities with its BBK sister company OPPO. Pete Lau, one of the co-founders of OnePlus, once served as the Vice President of OPPO. And in terms of design, there are glaring similarities between some of the two brands’ phones, the new OnePlus 8 Pro with OPPO’s Find X2 Pro, for example. OnePlus phones are even manufactured in OPPO’s manufacturing unit in Dongguan, China.

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But what differentiates OnePlus from its siblings is its ardent focus on internal hardware and a clean, functional OS. OnePlus’ OxygenOS (HydrogenOS) is beloved by its users and is considered to be one of the cleanest made for Android. OnePlus also pioneered the 5G movement to deliver game-changing speed in India, Europe, and the US with the release of the OnePlus 7 Pro 5G.

Despite not having the massive scale of OPPO and Vivo, OnePlus is successful in targeting new markets for BBK. OnePlus ships its phones to over 50 countries, and it is part of the top 5 manufacturers for the premium smartphone ($600 to 800$) market. These are incredible achievements for a brand with no physical stores and sells most of its devices through its website. OnePlus is definitely a name to look out for.

Realme: Premium specs for a budget price

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With the premium smartphone market in the bag, BBK also wanted to capture the budget sector and compete with the crowd-favorite Xiaomi. That’s where Realme comes to light, an emerging OPPO subsidiary that is already a big player in the budget segment of India and other Asian countries.

Despite just releasing their first phone in 2018, Realme has already captured a 16.2% market share in India, entered the top 10 largest phone manufacturers worldwide, and became the fastest-growing smartphone brand in 2019.

Realme’s meteoric rise is all thanks to its parent company BBK’s massive manufacturing scale, which allows Realme to price their killer phones at aggressively low prices. Realme’s release schedule is also off the charts, with the brand launching 27 phones in just two years! Talk about enthusiastic marketing.

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Realme is definitely a dominant figure in the entry-level smartphone market, but the brand is also already looking to gain a share of the mid-range sector, with offerings like the X50 Pro 5G and specs like 48-megapixel AI quad-camera and 5G connectivity. If Realme continues with their aggressive offerings that give insane value for your money, they are sure to go up the ranks as more than just a budget brand.

iQOO: Affordable gaming and 5G connectivity

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iQOO is the latest brand to come from the BBK group of phones, and it is already packing quite the punch and the potential to lead the 5G connectivity race. A sub-brand of Vivo launched in 2019 to focus on performance, iQOO was one of the first brands to announce a device to be powered by the Snapdragon 865 processor to expand 5G speeds. With its killer features like Snapdragon 865, 1080p OLED display, and 4440-mAh battery, the iQOO 3 is definitely marketed to be a gaming phone, without looking like a gaming phone.

That seems to be the selling point of iQOO: to develop phones with specs like a gaming phone but made to be used as an everyday phone by everyone. Being a new brand, there’s still a lot of innovation to expect from iQOO as we are sure to see in the coming years.

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Smartphones of the future

With five brands under its wing, BBK Electronics is definitely a powerhouse in the smartphone industry. While OPPO, Vivo, OnePlus, Realme, and iQOO all have their defining features, they all share the quality of pioneering quick innovation and sporting great value for their devices. BBK brands are beloved by consumers, with three of the brands being in the top 10 manufacturers worldwide, and it’s clear to see why.

From simple beginnings as a small Chinese electronics company, BBK is now a global brand and a billion-dollar venture determined to take over the world, one smartphone at a time. 

Do you own a smartphone from the BBK group? What do you think about BBK Electronics and its position in the smartphone industry? Let us know in the comments below.

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