China. To many, it represents a vast nation of over 1.3 billion people. It is a place of contrasts, of both extreme wealth and extreme poverty. A place where both revolutionary Communism and extreme Capitalism seem to co-exist, like Yin and Yang.
It is a place of sophisticated, high-tech cities like Shanghai and Shenzen, where hundreds of thousands of workers show up every day at factories from villages dotting the countryside hoping to earn a living producing the consumer electronics products that get shipped all over the world.
A place where giant manufacturing firms, known as Original Design Manufacturers (ODMs) that are virtually unknown to American households, produce under contract virtually all of the electronic and high-tech products that are bought and sold in the United States, under famous brand names like Apple, Microsoft, Hewlett Packard and Dell, just to name a few.
In a previous article I referred to this trend as commoditization. But it is simply the Chinese manufacturing phenomenon, an engine of production that shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
I have been fascinated with China for quite some time, in particular the "Grey Market" products which do not see general distribution in the United States, but can sometimes be acquired through specialized channels.
These products often are a sneak preview of products we see under more recognizable brand names once the technology and designs have been socialized to distribution partners all over the world, and coupled with more pleasing packaging, minor design changes, documentation and software appropriate to fit the taste of export markets.
But China is not simply a giant factory for companies like Apple and HP. It is place where a huge domestic demand for technology is producing native brands and products that currently have little nor no exposure in the United States, but are on the verge of much wider distribution.
In this article series --"Made in China" -- I want to explore this phenomenon further. We are going to look at all types of technology products, from inexpensive gadgets and technology reference designs all the way up to major appliances, in order to gain a better understanding of China's manufacturing capability as it relates to products produced elsewhere, and how the native supply chain and labor pool affects quality and price.
Are Chinese products simply imitations of what is produced in Japan and Korea? Or is the country uniquely creating its own unique designs and brand identity? We're going to find out.
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