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« As We Await Gartner's Count of Smartphones Q1 | Main | Final Q1 Smartphone Market Shares: Top 10 Brands, OS platforms and Installed Base »

May 29, 2014



@Leebase (

That's a very good point. The one who controls the entertainment industry controls half of the culture. It doesn't matter if China is becoming a bigger economy if the United States has that great influence all over the world.

"Designed by Apple in California Assembled in China" tells how it is. While the iPhone you may have was assembles in China, it was people living in the United States making the calls what will be designed. Even the Chinese designs on smartphones are basically mimicking what Google and Apple have been doing. That's some real power. Forcing the designers of a bigger economy to copy you instead of delivering new and fresh designs.

Tomi T Ahonen

Hi Siasa

Actually that is EXACTLY why I wanted to bring in Kondratiev and show the historical comparisons. When the USA was building rockets, Britain made the last and fastest steam engine trains. Even where Britain tried to remain in the jet transport airliner business, the Americans ran away with it. Similarly now, in the transition stage, there will be many cases where it seems the USA is doing just fine, but Lenovo is both designed in China and made in China. In about two years Lenovo will sell roughly as many smartphones as Apple's iPhone (but obviously at far lower average prices and profits). The momentary points of leadership are fleeting now, similar to how long the UK held a jetliner lead with the Comet before Boeing and McDonnell Douglas came and stole that business from Britain.

Tomi Ahonen :-)


This is not surprisingly already changing. Take a look at these:

I'd say quite a step further than the old "like iphone, but cheaper". And it's a natural progression. You get a huge advantage having the designer live next to their factories and a huge market. Previously not a very demanding market besides price, but that's also quickly changing, as does their local designers.


// was not one of the communists/socialists

Kondratiev was an active member os socialist-revolutionary party since 1905, and member of a larger Bolshevik's economist group after 1917. The group was was mostly executed by Stalin cerca 1937.

Tomi T Ahonen

Hi all..

Getting lively debate and different from our usual bickering, eh?

Imbro - good points, I agree. Also the ecosystem that is already in place in China - media is mobile, advertising is mobile, money is mobile, the internet is for most people only mobile... - means that the whole system supports the growth opportunities, rapid gains on any innovation and a powerful testbed - which Apple does not have back home in California, where mobile is just one of half a dozen media choices etc.

Leebase first comment (welcome to the right thread haha).. Good point but this is now the transition time. Of all we currently know and that are in mass market status, the USA is (or has been) a major player, from movies to airplanes to toothpaste to Nike's. But there are many new areas now emerging where the US is not yet strong or isn't particularly focusing, especially around mobile but also look at space - China wants to go put a man on the moon. The USA did it but decided its too expensive and quit. Look at wind power. The first Maglev superfast train. And we are starting to buy Chinese brands - Lenovo, ZTE, Huawei just in mobile handsets (and PCs). The major Chinese telecoms and internet players have a massive domestic market that keeps them busy, but they are already starting to move abroad.

On the second comment - ok, and valid point. Its possible that China won't achieve the levels of leadership that we've seen of the hegemony power. I do think, however, that the pattern is particularly strong with Kondratieff. If 20 years ago, when the Soviet Union had fallen apart, and the USA was far and away the planet's strongest military and economic power, someone suggested they'd struggle and stumble and go into severe debt and limp out of 'minor' regional wars (compared to WW1 and WW2) - that would have seemed absurd. But Kondratiev's wave suggested it was the peak and there would be a decline. I've been monitoring that decline the past two decades. Now look at China. Its neck-and-neck with Russia as the second/third strongest military in the world. This year it becomes the biggest economy in the world. The USA is stuck throwing much of its military expenditure maintaining over 50 military bases abroad, and paying for the injured veterans of hte past wars, and keeping its cumbersome and ill-fitting military hardware up and runninng. China can - with a consrcipt army so it pays a tiny fraction of salary costs - spend most of its military investment into actual growth in military capability, and buying newest, latest tech that is suited for 21st century warfare. It can get to rough parity at far less cost than it takes for the USA to maintain its combat capability today.

Before WW2 the USA was not the second strongest military or even third or fourth. But during WW2 it mobilized and in four years became the clear military superpower of the planet, and built the atom bomb in that same time. If you don't have to waste your military expenditure on foreign bases and maintenance of older expensive tech that is requiring every more effort just to remain viable, you can get to strong military capability fast. The big motivator is not there now, as we are not in a world war type of situation. If China were to find itself in a war, it could use that economic muscle and its enormous industrial capacity to far outbuild any other nation - much like how legend has it Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto said after Pearl Harbor, that Japan had awoken the sleeping giant (he apparently never said that, it was a line created for the movie Tora Tora Tora). China is a sleeping giant.

On the currency haha, interesting point. But as China becomes increasingly the world's banker, then it won't matter. Governments and corporations want loans, and if China will supply them, they will take it. And the trust in the RMB/Yuan will grow. People didn't trust hte US dollar either a hundred years ago haha..

newbie - thanks. Ok, I forgot that, sorry about that. I have to go change that. But Kondratiev wasn't part of Lenin's communists...

Keep the discussion coming

Tomi Ahonen :-)


I disagree somewhat with the military part. Yes, China has those "carrier killer"-missiles. Yes, they have a huge cyber force. But by and large, it seems they're trying to build a conventional army, navy and air force. Sooner or later they'll have the needed hardware, but their tactics are mostly antiquated. Nothing like the modern maneuver warfare practiced by the U.S. For that, they would need to completely change their training and command & control methods.

This goes also for the economy: China is investing huge sums into building a 20th century economy, while the U.S. - with all its defects - is gearing towards robotics, 3D-printing, virtual/augmented reality etc. If those turn the tide, bringing manufacturing back to the U.S. (and Europe), China is left with outdated and inflexible manufacturing that is losing its competitiveness. On top of that there's the real estate bubble, which came about because the elite finds it lucrative to direct capital to their construction companies. To me, it is not yet clear this will be China's century.


// I have to go change that

Well, you may also want to change this:

// His theory was formed well before Lenin got his little revolution-thing going on in Russia //

Actually, he was appointed as a head of moscow economical Institute in 1920. Only a man highly trusted by Lenin group could get such an appointment and funding (in the middle of civil war!) at that time. The guy joined socialist-revolutionary party at the age of about 14, so he was a trusted revolutionary :)

First work on Wave theory appeared in 1922. I would say, this was (historically) LONG AFTER Lenin's revolution. Kondratiev published his book in 1924, the year when Lenin, who was disfunctional in his last years, died, and battle of power between Stalin and Trotsky began.

Anyway, while he wasn't exactly core Bolshevik, I can't see what's wrong with being part of Lenin's communist group.

Remember, in this new world, face of Mao Zhedong, who claimed himself to be a Lenin's follower, is printed on new money. "no good guys among Lenin's followers" is now old american world view. :)


There is another way to look at this. China has lots of factories manufacturing the products the world needs. But those factories are aging and the owners of those factories need to spend tons of money to keep them running and competitive. It would be much cheaper for companies working in other countries to build new competitive factories to compete and match the ones there are in China. With the same amount of money required to maintain the factories in China much better and more modern factories could be built on another country.

What will be the biggest threat for China is robotics. When there are robots working on the factories instead of people, there is no need to build factories in China. When the cheap labor is no longer needed, the factories are built where the resources are. Asia in general is relatively poor on resources and China is not an exception. China is safe only just as long as robotics is not good enough.


An interesting and important topic, but rife for too many simplistic assumptions and historical inaccuracies.

"it is believed that Iran had been able to hack into it."

Everything I read indicates that Iranians spoofed the signals from the environment, thus fooled the drone and therefore indirectly took control of it -- but they never really hacked into it.

"Sometimes buying existing Western brands [...], other times bringing their brand directly to us."

This is still too Western-centric. The Chinese play Go, and will envelop Western economies by conquering those parts of the world that are generally despised or ignored (Africa, Latin America).

But overall, I agree, and I have stated it repeatedly: the real exciting thing in mobile will not be the next big-display iPhone iteration, but some moves from China.

"You get a huge advantage having the designer live next to their factories and a huge market."

contrasting with

"When the cheap labor is no longer needed, the factories are built where the resources are."

Synergies between manufacturing and design, production and markets, and the interconnection between various suppliers, subcontractors and manufacturers mean that it is NOT possible to relocate plants from one country to another just like that. It took a long time for Silicon Valley to become the Mecca of electronics -- and it was not because there was a lot of silicon around. Once it reached its position, it was basically impossible to dethrone it. Same with Shenzhen. Production ecosystems, if you want.

"What Chinese products are the rest of the world buying?"

A good question, but there might be surprises in store. Again, looking at Asia, Africa and Latin America may result in some interesting realizations.

Did you know for instance that those colorful, patterned fabrics so typical of feminine clothing worn throughout Africa are actually Asian in origin, design and production (mainly Indonesia and China) and have been so...for the past couple of centuries?

Of course, you should know that the largest cinema production comes from India -- and is hugely popular in other continents (except Western countries).

So I take that question not as a rhetorical device, but as a genuine point to investigate.

"Nothing like the modern maneuver warfare practiced by the U.S."

which, under various guises, is only readying the US military to fight the 1950 era Red Army and the 1940 era Nippon Kaigun.

Which war of importance has the US won since 1945 -- excluding against hapless midget countries? None.

"The guy joined socialist-revolutionary party at the age of about 14, so he was a trusted revolutionary"

The SR were genuine revolutionaries, but the bolsheviks and the SR were enemies, and the Communists purged the SR mercilessly after the October revolution (understandably so, since the SR were vastly more popular than the bolsheviks).


@E. Casais
"Did you know for instance that those colorful, patterned fabrics so typical of feminine clothing worn throughout Africa are actually Asian in origin, design and production (mainly Indonesia and China) and have been so...for the past couple of centuries?"

Although I largely agree with your message, I have to add a correction: No, these fabrics are designed and printed in the Netherlands (Europe).

Africa's Fabric Is Dutch


"But for "leader of the world" you are going to have to do a lot more than simply sell widgets and clothes to the West at the cheapest of prices"

Have you been to China recently?

The Chinese are building on owning whole product categories from design to shipping. For instance, besides mobile phones, they are already taking over solar and wind energy.

This does not happen overnight. But the impetus is clear. With every year Chinese manufacturers move up the food chain. They do work actively on branding and developing their internal market.

You can see where they want to go by the way they do business:
- All business must be done in Mandarin (not English)
- Foreign companies must partner with real producers from within China
- Producing in China is only allowed if you transfer the technology
- China enforces their own IP laws on foreign companies.


Hi Tomi,

I have always enjoyed and highly valued your blogs posts on the mobile phone industry, but I am very doubtful of this post on global marcoeconomics development.

This is partly because I am a believer of "past performane not an indicator of future results", so even if there were some sort of 55 year cycles in the past, it may not remain valid in the future. More detailed analysis would be needed to support the predictions made by this hypothesis.

Furthermore, development of chinese economy seems to be heading toward a direction of more state control and less free market economy. Taking the mobile phone industry as an example, recently it is announced that the government decided all 4G-LTE base stations will be built by a single newly established national base station company, instead of by the 3 mobile operators (China Telecom, China Unicom and China Mobile) themselves. The 3 mobile operators themselves are not really private enterprises, since they are heavily state owned and their top executives are appointed by the government. Such development seems to suggest the government control of the economy will increase, while the share of free market economy will deteriorate. As a student of traditional economic theory, it is hard to believe that a planned economy will be more efficient than a free market economy, so it is difficult to believe in your prediction.

However, if you believe that the chinese is doing the right thing, and other countries should also built their 4G base stations using a centralize government agency, I would like to hear your reasoning. Hey, if there are really good arguments, I am also open to changing my mind to believe that planned economy can be superior to free market economy.


"As a student of traditional economic theory, it is hard to believe that a planned economy will be more efficient than a free market economy"

I strongly encourage you to forget about "traditional economic theory", which is largely based on unrealistic assumptions and more often than not devoid of empirical foundations.

The question of planned vs. free-market is actually far from clear-cut, and has been debated for ages, for instance by March and Simon in their seminal work "Organizations".

"Hey, if there are really good arguments"

Every public telephone network in Western countries was built in the course of decades by a monopoly, in general a state monopoly -- both service provider and equipment manufacturer. The current optical fibre deployments in Japan and Korea are driven by a state programme as well.

All this works quite well if the goal is to provide widespread coverage and availability of communication services. I guess the Chinese are trying to repeat the procedure with wide-band wireless -- probably with the intent to take advantage of economies of scale for very high coverage throughout the country, rather than letting the free market concentrate on high-density, high-income city areas.


"I guess the Chinese are trying to repeat the procedure with wide-band wireless -- probably with the intent to take advantage of economies of scale for very high coverage throughout the country, rather than letting the free market concentrate on high-density, high-income city areas."

If your goal is coverage io efficiency, then the centralized road is the most effective.

Compare public transport and network coverage (all media) in, e.g., the USA and Europe. The only thing with universal good coverage in the USA are the highways, and they are a federal monopoly.



We agree. Planning, building and rolling out a nationwide network is more efficiently done in a centralized approach -- apart from telephone and road networks, this is how electrical, gas, water, and often railway networks were set up. Economies of scale, systematic coverage, having huge backbone infrastructure (whether high-voltage lines, thick communication cables, or pipelines) criss-crossing the country with corresponding right-of-way and eminent-domain issues, as well as the problem of natural monopolies: everything plays a role.

"No, these fabrics are designed and printed in the Netherlands (Europe). Africa's Fabric Is Dutch"

The Dutch introduced and dominated the Dutch (!) wax prints by borrowing from the Indonesian batik -- with English production playing a substantial role. Nowadays, the vast majority of the (affordable) production and design is from China, with some of it from Africa proper. English manufacturers are gone, the remaining Dutch manufacturer (Vlisco) specializes in high-end, luxury fabrics.

In the end, the important point is that the traditional, USA/Europe-centric view makes us blind to cross-cultural/intercontinental exchanges that are actually surprisingly significant. Fashion? African fashion comes from China and the Netherlands -- not from Paris or Milano. TV series? Those from Brazil are wildly popular worldwide and a huge business -- but in the USA/UK/France/Germany/etc one is rarely exposed to them. Bollywood movies? Same.

So discounting China as having no card to play in this area seems to me dangerously premature -- but again: I wish I knew more about what is happening with Chinese culture/products/models around the world.


"So discounting China as having no card to play in this area seems to me dangerously premature -- but again: I wish I knew more about what is happening with Chinese culture/products/models around the world."

I fully agree. There are four dangerous possibilities that could wreck China's progress:
- A Japanese style bursting housing/financing/banking bubble like Japan had
- Massive civil unrest breaking out caused by the large migrant workers communities and city folks
- A major war breaking out with Japan/India/Russia
- A return to isolationist policies as has happened several times in the past (following any of the above)

It is clear that the elite in China is aware of all of these. But that does not mean they cannot fall into their own swords.

Other than that, it is pretty clear that China's 1.5B people will rule the world economy for the foreseeable future.


Tomi – Excellent post. I feel like you’ve probably had that one brewing in you for a while. Your analysis of aircraft carriers still sticks out in my head. Being that you actually live in HK/China and travel an extensive amount, you inherently have far greater insight than most people on this subject.

I think we can all agree that the US is losing its grip as a superpower. I think that best case, America will share the superpower role with others in the decades to come. Perhaps more likely is Tomi’s prediction. Things are changing very rapidly. American imperialism (among other things) is bankrupting the country and instead of retreating a little it feels like we’re doubling down. I’m sorry if it opens up a can of worms but Ron Paul has is spot on when it comes to monetary, fiscal, and foreign policy. Instead of reassessing where were at as a country and the new world dynamics, it’s all business as usual in Washington. The truth of the matter is that we’re in survival mode and struggling to maintain what we have.

On Robots: A great read is “Hot Property” by Pat Choate. China has been looking to become the biggest baddest kid on the block for some time now and they are ruthless. Most of the robotics in this country are in the automobile industry. It’s been a while since I’ve read the book but IP theft is rampant and China is catching up very quickly.
I can’t help but relate this whole post to a Samsung vs Nokia analogy. America had it all and the guys at the top blew it. China has been waiting patiently, ready to pounce at the opportune moment. They’ve been ramping up and that moment is almost here.

Everyone who thinks that China is not in a place to overtake the US as the world’s superpower has totally overlooked the debt we’ve amassed. Yes, China likes us to buy their stuff and a large part of their economy is based on us consuming Chinese goods. However, they’ve also loaned us the money to buy their stuff. They’re the shop and the bank. We’re the chump stuck with crappy goods and an interest only payment we can barely manage. This has already happened and we’ve passed the point of no return. It is a symbiotic relationship but we need China more than they need us.

America can no longer manufacture what it needs and that is not coming back anytime soon, if ever. Yes we are self-sufficient with our food supply and yes we have military superiority. However, short of WW3, none of that really helps us now does it?


Also, Tomi, what do you think about the role nations like Israel and most of Scandinavia play? They’re obviously too small to be superpowers but they’ve carved out nice little niches for themselves. Is America too big to cede power and still be extremely wealthy/successful?


Note that the current "IP" regime has been set up bue the USA and EU to level a tax on imports. Developing countries cannot win in this game.

The USA even made India pay patent license fees on Basmati rice and Neem tree products. Chinese Android phone producers must pay MS fees for a useless patent that has been smuggled into an international standard.


@Ben, @Winter

The fact that violations of IPR are widespread in China just mirrors what took place in the USA and Europe in the 19th century at the height of the first industrial revolution.

Then, for instance, the USA did not recognize copyright from the UK, Switzerland did not recognize patents from other countries, and the Netherlands did not recognize any patent at all. Once those countries had developed and created their own industries, they moved on to establish strong IPR to defend their domestic economy against foreign competition.

I assume China will follow the same course.

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