JD.com got a preorder of 3.5 million units for Nubia's two new smartphone models combined, and actually sold 500,000 units in the first two weeks, said Ni. Nubia's new smartphones were ranked at number one and two in JD.com last November, "more popular than iPhone," he added. With increased brand awareness among Chinese consumers, "sales at our own Nubia website also got off the ground," Ni reported.
Opportunities in 2014
Ni sees two things going for Nubia in 2014. First, JD.com is reportedly planning to go public this year. "JD.com can use Nubia's momentum. But we also need JD.com for our success," said Ni.
Second is China Mobile's 4G LTE factor.
In its efforts to compensate for its spotty TD-SCDMA-based 3G coverage, China Mobile is rushing to roll out 4G networks. China's largest operator has pledged to buy 100 million units of 4G LTE smartphones from all its partners in 2014 alone.
Noting Apple's new relationship with China Mobile, Nubia's CEO speculated that China Mobile would procure roughly 30% of LTE smartphones from Apple and Samsung, and the rest -- 70% -- from mid- to low-end smartphone vendors.
Nubia, whose high-end smartphone aren't exactly in the same league with Apple and Samsung, still hopes to generate volume sales among the 70 million LTE smartphones China Mobile said it would buy.
Meanwhile, Nubia isn't standing still after the success of its Z5 models. The company will introduce later this month a new phablet (screen size around 6 inches). The new model is important to Nubia, "to make noise" and to keep the Nubia brand fresh in the minds of consumers, Ni explained.
Knows RF and chip designs
To differentiate its new model from other high-end smartphones, Nubia is emphasizing its technology prowess (based on years of experience at ZTE as a leading provider of telecommunication equipment) and its familiarity with operators.
The new X6, according to Ni, will come with "very powerful camera functions" and "a single handset body that can support all of the operator networks' different communication modulation schemes at different frequencies."
Simply by swapping a SIM card, customers can use the same phone with any operators' network anywhere in the world, Ni said. "I think we are the first smartphone vendor to do it."
Ni made it clear that even if a chipset used in a smartphone is multi-mode, it's not certain that the handset can support all frequencies. "First of all, a handset needs to be slim," said Ni. "When the back of the smartphone and all of its sides are metal, you must know where and how to place antennas supporting all the different frequencies. You also need to know your RF design, so that there will be no interference."
Not every Chinese operator might be happy with a smartphone that offers subscribers so much freedom, allowing them to switch operators with just a SIM card. "But this is eventually what consumers want," said Ni.
On the other hand, China Telecom, ranked in third in total domestic subscribers, is talking about standardizing its smartphones with those handsets supporting all modems at all frequencies, Ni explained. "They have nothing to lose."
Nubia X6 comes with Sony's 13 Megapixel CMOS image sensor capable of taking high-resolution pictures. Even better, its camera application offers independent control for focus, exposure and white balance. By simply touching on-screen controls, a user can adjust each element and preview, on-screen in real time, his or her exact photo, Ni explained.
To enable such a real-time image-processing, Ni explained that Nubia has worked with an unnamed partner to add a DSP that runs professional camera-like functions. Ni also went to San Diego and got Qualcomm to open an interface to the GPU core used inside Snapdragon 800, allowing Nubia to use its own protocol to communicate with the GPU.
Ni also discussed ZTE's own chipset development. Called "WiseFone," the processor integrating LTE modem with a CPU is ZTE's home-grown smartphone chip, manufactured by using a 28-nm process technology. Without going into details, Ni said that while Nubia doesn't have an immediate plan to switch from Qualcomm's Snapdragon to its own WiseFone, it's good to have a back-up plan. "We think it's a start," he said.
Nubia CEO with his hand covering its yet-to-be-announced Nubia X6. (He showed us the live demo with it, but he didn't want us to photograph it before the official launch.)
(Source: EE Times/Junko Yoshida)
— Junko Yoshida, Chief International Correspondent, EE Times