Chinese Upstart OPPO Scores a Hit With Newest Marquee Phones

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R7 Plus smartphones, manufactured by OPPO.

Photographer: Pau Barrena/Bloomberg

OPPO, the fast-rising Chinese smartphone maker that targets younger buyers, has sold an unprecedented number of its newest marquee devices in the three months since launch.

Guangdong OPPO Electronics Co., ranked fourth in worldwide smartphone sales in the first quarter, has sold 7 million of the R9 since its March debut. Figures for the device, which sells for 2,799 yuan ($425), were announced at a media event in Shanghai.

OPPO is one of a coterie of Chinese smartphone makers aggressively grabbing market share from the likes of Samsung Electronics Co. and Lenovo Group Ltd. as the industry undergoes its worst downturn on record. Cheaper yet reliable phones priced at around 3,000 yuan, large marketing budgets and a rapid expansion of distribution -- including through physical stores -- have fueled its ascendancy. 

The R9 sports a 13-megapixel front camera and quick-charge capability, features that appeal to youthful, selfie-obsessed consumers. That helped OPPO’s first-quarter global smartphone shipments surge 153 percent to 18.5 million units according to research firm IDC, dwarfing the performance of local rivals such as Xiaomi Corp. and Vivo. Counterpoint Research director Neil Shah predicts OPPO will sell 63 million smartphones during 2016, a 44 percent increase from last year.

Smartphone sales tend to fluctuate sharply between model launches and are dependent on rival activity. Samsung introduced its latest Galaxy flagship in March to solid reviews, though the premium-priced device doesn’t compete directly with the R9. 

Leading Chinese brands Huawei Technologies Co. and Vivo may have experienced a sales slowdown in the second quarter but OPPO remains resilient and could have doubled shipments in the period, Jefferies Hong Kong Ltd. analysts Ken Hui and Kevin Zhang wrote last week.

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