The name “Transsion” doesn’t come up often in the smartphone conversation. Yet this company is one of the biggest smartphone makers in the world. The Chinese company, which sells phones under the Tecno, Itel, and Infinix brands, has quietly climbed to the fifth spot in the global market, according to Canalys, IDC, and Omdia.

Transsion does not have a very dominant presence in Europe or North America. It’s not even a household name in its own country. Instead, it has strategically focused on emerging markets in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, Asia, and Oceania, where it has carved out a niche by catering to local consumer needs and preferences. Transsion’s dominance is especially evident in Africa, where it sells more phones than Samsung and Xiaomi combined and holds a whopping 48% market share, according to Canalysis. It also dominates the accessories market via the Oraimo brand, which has over 21% unit share of the African wearables market.

The exact timing of Transsion’s entry into the global top five varies among different reports. IDC and Omdia say it happened in the second quarter of this year, while Canalys says it was in the third quarter. But they all agree that Transsion is now a top-five player, joining the likes of Samsung, Apple, Xiaomi, and Oppo. The only outlier is Counterpoint Research, which puts Vivo in the fifth spot, creating some discrepancy, The Verge reports.

Transsion’s growth is largely because there is more room for growth in emerging markets than in Western markets. The Middle East and Africa were the only regions to record year-on-year smartphone growth in Q3. The company’s model has been simple: offer the latest features and designs of premium phones but at a fraction of the price.

Transsion’s phones are not just cheap and cheerful. They are also designed to meet the specific needs and tastes of consumers in the Global South. For instance, most mobile-savvy Africans know that to avoid network fees and get the best connectivity in low-coverage areas, they need more than one SIM card — but most can’t afford two different phones. Transsion solved that problem by selling dual SIM card phones in 2008, two years before competitors like Nokia began to. Today, some Transsion phones even include a four-SIM feature.

In Ethiopia, Tecno became the first major phone brand in the country to offer a keyboard in Amharic, the country’s native language. This unlocked an entirely new customer base. Since then, it has added more local languages, including Swahili and Hausa. The company also optimised its cameras for darker skin tones to enhance the quality of selfies and portraits.

“In the past, firms that did business in Africa and South Asia did not spend too much on research and development (R&D), but in fact, emerging markets require more R&D efforts,” Zhu Zhaojiang, the founder and chairman of Transsion, told China’s Global Times in 2019.

Counterpoint Research warns that 2023 is expected to be the worst year for smartphone shipments in a decade. According to them, consumers in developed markets are changing their phones less frequently. Africa has a thriving used phone market. So, fewer shipments would mean more opportunities for companies like Transsion to expand their footprint.

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