in China Goes Global

To many consumers, “Made in China” has often signified cheap, low quality, or fake. However, now that Chinese-made and Chinese-designed products are hitting the international market, Chinese companies have an opportunity to redefine their international brand by uniquely providing Chinese products that meet international tastes and standards. In other words, Chinese companies can introduce glocal products to the global market.

Glocal versus Global

Originally coined by sociologist Roland Robertson in the 1980s, “glocal” is an oxymoronic portmanteau of the terms “local” and “global.” It describes a kind of globalization in which as products and business processes become more internationally integrated, they also become regionally particularized. In a word, globalization does not require universalization – the homogenization of all products. Rather, global products will mix with local cultures and histories to produce recognizably differentiated results.

For the last few decades, this “glocalization” has usually flowed from the figurative West to East, as multinational brands adjust their products to suit Asian regional tastes. Think of McDonald’s incorporating cultural variants of popular American menu items like spicy vegetarian burgers in India or the green tea-flavored products PepsiCo in China. As more Chinese companies begin designing, producing, and selling their products globally however, this pattern will reverse itself; Chinese companies will begin sending glocalized products to western markets.

Chinese companies will begin sending glocalized products to western markets.

The Tablet Phone: Exporting Asian

The tablet phone – or the “phablet,” as many a tech blog has dubbed it – is an unlikely international success story and a case study for how Asian tech products can sell internationally without abandoning their culturally-influenced design principles.

If you have recently visited an East Asian city, you have probably seen many pedestrians with their head buried in their tablet phones, blissfully ignorant of traffic. The tablet phone has a screen size that usually exceeds five inches (for comparison, the iPhone 5 had a four-inch screen) and is ideally suited for gaming and multitasking on do-it-all apps like WeChat or South Korea’s KakaoTalk.

While the tablet was originally conceived by Korean company Samsung and quickly picked up by Chinese phone makers like Huawei and Xiaomi, international consumers have warmed up to the design concept as well. Western companies have responded; the iPhone 6 Plus, for example, boasts a screen size of 5.5 inches.

Despite its international popularity, the tablet phone is a significant departure from previous trends in mobile phone design, which in the U.S., tends towards an uber-minimalist aesthetic that values sleekness and, by corollary, smaller phone sizes. The tablet phone also represents an Asian approach to mobile that is outstripping the American perspective.

Asian mobile apps tend to be more all-encompassing; for example, WeChat users never have to switch apps to shop online, make phone calls, or order a taxi. Meanwhile, Western mobile designers have shunned products and applications that have such crowded functions and interfaces.

Clearly, Asian mobile manufacturers are doing something right that their American and European counterparts are not.

Xiaomi, a Beijing-based company, has become the world’s third-largest mobile manufacturer by selling phones that operate on par with Samsung and Android models but run at half their prices. They have been able to combine Asia’s strengths in cheap manufacturing and ubiquitous mobile use to innovate technologically. One Korean-American likened the U.S.’s mobile technology and infrastructure as being in the “Dark Ages” as compared to South Korea’s, where even subway users can access Wifi that runs at twice the speed of American internet.

The tablet phone is representative of the fact that Asian companies are ready to offer the international market products that come from distinctly Asian design principles and tastes but satisfy global needs. Going forward, as more and more Chinese companies began expanding globally, we will be sure to see more “glocal” products: internationally compatible but geographically recognizable.

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