It’s barely 2 PM, but the third-floor headquarters of Realme India at Gurugram’s Cyber City is asleep. Literally. Employees, just done with lunch, are dimming the lights for an hour-long post-meal nap—a common practice at most Chinese companies. But while this may give the impression of a lackadaisical company, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Realme has exploded out of the blocks in India, garnering 7% of the smartphone market since its launch last May. With seven million units sold, according to the company, it is fast encroaching on the market leader and rival budget smartphone specialist Xiaomi’s territory.
Two of its recently launched models—the Realme 3 and Realme 3 Pro—are giving incumbent Xiaomi’s flagship phones—Redmi Note 7 and Note 7 Pro—a run for their money. While Xiaomi claimed to have sold 2 million units of its Note 7 series since launching around near February-end, Realme claims it sold 500,000 units of Realme 3 in just three weeks since its launch. It also says the Realme 3 was the most sold phone in the online channel—Xiaomi’s stomping grounds—in March.
Two floors above the Realme office, its parent company, Oppo, is preparing for the launch of one of its most premium phone series so far—Reno. The series launched in China last month with best-in-class specs and is expected to retail in India for between Rs 40,000-50,000 ($574.26-717.82)
Nine kilometres away from Cyber City, Vivo—another Chinese smartphone brand—is laying the groundwork for its Y12 and Y15 models, in the decidedly more modest Rs 12,000-15,000 range($172.28-215.35).
And finally, more than 2,000 kilometres away in Bengaluru, OnePlus, the darling of premium phone lovers—has launched its OnePlus 7 and OnePlus 7 Pro.
Separate offices. Different locations. But all these companies have the same DNA running through them. That of Chinese electronics manufacturer BBK Electronics (Bu Bu Gao Electronics in Chinese), their parent company.
BBK had early success with DVD and MP3 players, landline phones and educational consoles. Circa 2000, however, it was on the verge of closure as the popularity of its products waned. But the company, founded by Duan Yongping, pivoted to smartphones and saw a dramatic reversal in fortunes.
Its audio-visual division, then involved in the manufacture of DVD and MP3 players, was hived off into Oppo in 2004. Its communications division became Vivo in 2009. They, like OnePlus and Realme which followed, are run as separate companies. Yongping isn’t involved in the day-to-day operations of any of these companies.
Today, BBK is among the largest smartphone companies in the world. In India, it’s the second largest smartphone company in terms of market share after Xiaomi. All told, it holds 30.5%, according to Singapore-based Canalys Research, a technology market analysis firm. Xiaomi is marginally ahead at 31.4%.