As a young tech lover from China, he went from creating MP3 players to mass-producing smartphones.
I continue a series of materials about the history of large Chinese companies, there is already about LeEco and Xiaomi. Today we will talk about the company Meizu.
The official website meizu.com reports that the company was founded in 2003. Although some sources say that it was officially created in 1998, and then there was a lull for several years. At the origins of the company was a young guy named Huang Zhang who was fond of technology and loved to listen to music. At the first stage, he invested 100 thousand yuan in Meizu – at the exchange rate of that time it was a little less than 400 thousand rubles. And for a long time, the company will exist on the savings of Huang Zhang, I will talk about him later.
The name 'Meizu' is derived from two Chinese words: 'mei' is a modern person (geek), and 'zu' is a group of people. That is, the company name can be translated as 'geek group'. Apparently, the name can be interpreted as the ideology 'from geeks to geeks'.
The availability of personal funds has become one of the advantages for a young company: it does not need to report to investors, fulfill plans and obligations. Therefore, the founder of the company Meizu himself chose the direction for development. If you believe the story that circulates on the Internet, then the idea for creating the first product came to Juan by accident: he wanted to listen to music on some MP3 player, and he did not like the sound quality. It is not known what kind of player it was, and the veracity of the story for me remains in doubt. But it sounds beautiful.
So Meizu started developing a player.
There is almost no information about the process of creating the first player of the company Meizu MX. It came out around June 2003. The player looked inconspicuous, especially against the background of the iPod from Apple, and the characteristics were modest: a small monochrome screen, 512 MB of memory and worked from one finger battery.
I was able to find only one photo of the player Meizu MX in a very small resolution. But while searching, I came across images of a player that looks exactly the same – this is i Audi o CW300 from the well-known South Korean company Cowon. Wikipedia and many other sources report that Meizu completely copied the device, although there is no confirmation anywhere. I have a theory, which I will talk about a little later.
Meizu MX and Cowon CW300
MX never found the price Meizu, so for clarity let's take the price i Audi o CW300 – $ 200 for the 256 MB version. I think the first player Meizu cost about the same.
The next player was Meizu ME, it was released in April 2004. He also has a clone – Onda VX505. Almost immediately another novelty came out – the Meizu MI player. He got a more interesting design and was aimed at a female audience. Although there was nothing unusual in its characteristics. No copy of this player could be found
Meizu ME and MI
Until 2006 Meizu released 7 more players. All of them did not provide anything fundamentally new for the music technology industry, although they became successful in the Chinese market. Better to dig deeper into the copying story.
Did the company start with theft?
There is a fact that the player Meizu MX is a complete copy of Cowon i Audi o CW300. Other similar materials on Russian-language sites write that Meizu simply stole the design from a Korean company. It is even written about it in the official blog Meizu on 'Habrahabr'. Although in foreign sources this is not mentioned. And in the Russian 'Wikipedia' this fact is not supported by a footnote with a link.
If you go a little deeper into the history of Cowon, you will find information that it was engaged in OEM production for other markets. For example, in China, the NEC Dcube player was sold – a complete copy of Cowon i Audi o CW200.
Cowon CW200 and NEC Dcube
That is, Cowon, using its developments and production facilities, enabled other brands to produce the same devices, but under a different name. Perhaps Meizu also agreed with Cowon to release the first player.
The same situation with the second player Meizu is a complete copy of Onda VX505. Most likely, the young company Meizu did not have the money to develop devices from scratch and was using already established production lines.
Meizu ME and Onda VX505
This is just a theory, and I cannot say that Meizu certainly did not steal someone else's design. Moreover, in the future the company will still face a similar scandal, but it will be a completely different scale.
Since 2006, Meizu began a more interesting stage. The popularity of MP3 players has already fallen, and there is a fashion for large screens. Apple has already released the fifth generation iPod Classic, which has the ability to watch videos, not just photos. Of course, now the 2.5-inch display is not large and comfortable for video, but back then most phones had even smaller ones. So the so-called MP4 players started to gain popularity.
Meizu did the right thing – put the finished product on the Chinese market as soon as possible. In May 2006, the Meizu M6 was announced – an MP4 player with a 2.4-inch display and a resolution of 320 × 240 pixels, with support for video, e-books and with two games. From the unusual, we can note the control: instead of the usual buttons, a hybrid panel with mechanical buttons and a touch surface was installed in the M6.
You can learn more about the Meizu M6 player in the review from Artem Lutfullin.
The M6 had a big drawback – the back metal cover quickly and heavily covered with scratches. In September 2007 Meizu released an updated version of the M6SL player with a matte lid and thinner body.
Even with the flaws in the case, the player has become popular in China, but this is not the only sales market. Meizu M6 and M6SL were officially sold in Russia under the names Powerman XL-850 and Ritmix-9200.
The last player Meizu was M3 or Music Card. It is the answer to the iPod Nano output, a 1.5-inch display player with a compact body. In Russia, the M3 was sold as the Ritmix RF-7400. Read his review from Alexander Dembovsky.
Meizu Music Card
Back in September 2007, Huang Zhang announced on the forum the Meizu M7 player – the answer to the iPod Touch. They showed images and a short list of specifications: a 3-inch display with a resolution of 480 × 288 pixels and a price of $ 100. But the player never appeared on sale.
Switching to smartphones
In late 2006, there was a rumor that Meizu was developing a new M8 player on the system Windows CE. It was supposed to get a 2.6-inch display and an ARM processor from Samsung, clocked at 533 MHz.
M8 player on Windows CE
The player was never announced, and it's not hard to guess why the company's plans changed – in January 2007 the company Apple presented iPhone. So the M8 player turned into a smartphone, which Meizu announced two weeks after Apple.
First option Meizu M8
The first smartphone Meizu received a 3.3-inch display with a resolution of 720 × 480 pixels, a 3 megapixel camera with video recording support and Bluetooth Many immediately noted between the Meizu M8 and iPhone: it even had a lever to switch sound modes.
The company did not report the exact date of the smartphone's release on sale, and it had to wait a long time.
During the development of the Meizu M8, the company faced a lot of problems. It all started with the choice of the system: at the time the idea of creating a smartphone Android did not exist yet. Therefore, there was a choice between Linux, Windows Mobile or CE, they did not even consider Symbian.
Windows Mobile they didn't like it because of the awkward interface and high licensing fees of $ 10 for each smartphone. And developing a system based on Linux was difficult for a team of 18 people. So the choice remained at Windows CE.
Another challenge was the choice of a capacitive touchscreen. At the first stages Meizu she worked with the British company Quantum. They liked the first sample of glass with a touch layer, but development was still crude. For a whole year, they have tried to improve the accuracy of the pressure detection and the stability of the operation. It was impossible even to draw a straight line on the prototype: the point of contact was constantly shaking. So Meizu was forced to switch to another partner – Synaptics.
All these torments took place in secret from users. Meizu constantly postponed the start of sales, changed the system interface based on Windows CE and the design of the smartphone. In general, the smartphone had a very long, but not very interesting history of creation.
Therefore, we will immediately jump to March 2008 – to the CeBIT exhibition in Hanover. She came there Meizu with her players and a prototype of the M8 smartphone. But the German police closed their stand for copyright infringement the day before the exhibition opened. The journalists had no details about the violation, so everyone thought it was due to a copy of the interface and design iPhone for the smartphone Meizu M8. Later it turned out that the violation was in the use of an unlicensed MP3 codec in players Meizu.
The adventures with patents will not end there.
The final version Meizu M8 was presented only in February 2009. So he had to compete not with the first one iPhone, but with 3G and 3GS. The smartphone ran on an ARM11 processor with a maximum frequency of 677 MHz, the RAM was only 258 MB, and the permanent memory was 8 or 16 GB. For shooting photos and videos, one main camera with a 3 megapixel sensor.
Meizu M8 and iPhone
The body of the smartphone is made of plastic, and the appearance was definitely not its main advantage. The system Meizu OS based on Windows CE looked much more interesting. It even had multitasking and the ability to install third-party apps for Windows Mobile 5.0-6.0, movies and music could be downloaded without third-party apps and conversions, and full-fledged Bluetooth with file sharing.
I advise you to read the review Meizu M8 by Artem Lutfullin.
Overall, the Meizu M8 received positive reviews, although many noted the design continuity from iPhone. The similarity was noticed in Apple itself: back in 2008, the company wanted to ban the production of Meizu M8 due to design theft. Meizu tried to negotiate with Apple a small company, but only managed to slow down the process a little and greatly worsen the situation.
Apple achieved a ban on Meizu M8 production only in the second half of 2010, but this was not enough, and the company demanded to close sales in China. A ban on production would only attract small losses for itself Meizu, but a ban on sales would harm all partners of the company. So Meizu brought in good lawyers who proved that patents Apple cannot influence the Chinese market.
On March 3, 2010, the first record of obtaining a certificate of official representation Meizu in Russia appeared on the mymeizu.ru website. The supply of devices, russification and adaptation for the Russian market was handled by the company Hermes Mobile Distribution. However, the Meizu M8 never officially went on sale.
In parallel with the lawsuits Meizu, I was developing a new smartphone. Back in June 2010, Huang Zhang posted photos of a smartphone with the inscription Meizu M9 on the back cover on an Internet forum Meizu.
It remains to wait for the announcement.
The second smartphone Meizu went on sale in January 2011. Behind him was an incredibly long queue to the brand stores. Even the secretary general of the China Communications Association expressed his suspicion that Meizu paid people to queue and create a buzz. The company representatives denied this, citing large pre-orders and a shortage of devices. The scandal did not receive further development.
The case Meizu M9 is also made of plastic, like the M8, but it worked on Android 2.2 with a proprietary shell. It has a Samsung processor with a maximum frequency of 1 GHz, 512 MB of RAM, a 3.5-inch screen with a resolution of 960 × 640 pixels and a 5 megapixel camera. I will not pay much attention to him, it is better to read the review from Artem Lutfullin.
All in all Meizu the M9 was a successful model. There were problems with communication outside of China, because the company did not initially plan to enter other markets and did not test work in other countries. Then the situation changed.
But Meizu M9 became the first smartphone to be officially sold in Russia. The price is 13,500 rubles, for that time it was an average price range.
The mysterious and amazing Huang Zhang
Meizu has always been a rather closed company from a business standpoint: they barely talked about the device creation process and were reluctant to share device sales. Perhaps this secrecy is related to the founder of the company.
The creator of Meizu prefers to chat on the Internet under the nickname J. Wong. He does not give interviews and does not talk about his personal life, so his story has to be pieced together.
One of the few pictures of Huang Zhang. Source: waimainet.com
It is known that he was born in 1976 in the small provincial town of Meisian in northeastern China. He was expelled from school at the age of 16, so he did not go to college or university, for which his father kicked him out of the house. Prior to founding Meizu, he worked for a company that develops and sells OEM devices. There he got acquainted with the process of creating and designing electronic gadgets and raised money for his company.
Bai Yongxiang, who has been the CEO Meizu since 2010, talks about Huang Zhang as a dreamer. He had little interest in the financial side of the business, preferring to participate in the development of devices. So after the success of the Meizu M8 smartphone, he stepped down as director to shift the routine to others.
Judging by the stories, Huang Zhang was not just a geek, but in a good way a technology freak. At home, he rebuilt the walls, ceiling and floor to improve the acoustics of the room. He could stay away from the company's office for months and test a new smartphone at home. There is a story about how Meizu spent almost 400 thousand dollars to change the hole for the microUSB connector in a smartphone because Huang Zhang did not like it.
Huang Zhang was also the main contributor to the internet forum Meizu. In the first six years of the company's operation, he wrote more than 6 thousand posts, consulted with users and talked about his ideas.
Back to MX
In January 2012 Meizu presented the third MX smartphone – the same was the name of the company's first player. The smartphone received a completely new design, a new Flyme OS system based on Android and a Samsung Exynos dual-core processor at up to 1.4 GHz.
Six months later, a modification Meizu MX appeared on sale with a quad-core processor and a large amount of memory, it was no different from the usual one.
Mobile-Review has reviews for regular and improved Meizu MX.
The next novelty was the smartphone Meizu MX2, announced on November 28, 2012. This is another evolutionary model. Of the interesting things, I can note a small multifunctional touch button under the display. Read more about it in the review.
Around this time, CEO Meizu Bai Yongxiang revealed in an interview that the company is growing steadily and sells one million smartphones a year. He also explained why Meizu is reluctant to share data:
We have never published official sales statistics because we don't want to lie. Our position is that we either do not speak at all, or we speak the truth.
Then Meizu gradually developed the production of smartphones, releasing a new one every year – MX3 in 2013 and MX4 in September 2014.
In general, 2014 was a busy year for Meizu. In November Meizu announced an improved version of the flagship MX4 Pro with a larger display, 'music' stuffing and a fingerprint scanner. Few numbers: the MX4 was pre-ordered by 10 million users, and the MX4 Pro has almost 7 million more. Overall, sales have improved 16 times over the year.
Meizu MX4 Pro
At the end of the year, the company introduced Meizu M1 Note — the first budget smartphone in the company's lineup, which was produced in China under the Meilan sub-brand. The smartphone received a 5.5-inch display with Full HD – resolution, 2 GB of RAM and an eight-core processor MTK. For good characteristics, they asked for only 1000 yuan – about 8 thousand rubles at the rate of that time.
Meizu M1 Note
Just a month later Meizu I made another presentation – they showed a smartphone Meizu M1. This is a scaled-down version of the M1 Note with a 5-inch display, simpler processor, and reduced memory. But it cost only 700 yuan – about 6 thousand rubles. A successful line of budget smartphones has helped to significantly increase sales.
2015 started off well for Meizu. 1.4 million smartphones were sold in January, and in February, the largest Chinese company Alibaba invested Meizu $ 590 million. The company also received more opportunities for distributing devices through investor channels.
According to rumors, the company MediaTek also invested money in Meizu. There is speculation that they have agreed so that the next MX flagship runs on processors MTK. And so it happened.
At the end of June Meizu presented the next flagship MX5 in a metal case, with a processor MediaTek MT6795T and with a new proprietary mTouch multifunctional button with a built-in fingerprint scanner. After the jump in the ruble-dollar rate, the flagship was sold in Russia for 25 thousand rubles.
In the same month, Meizu M2 Note was presented – just six months after the announcement of the first model. Back in July, they showed Meizu M2 Mini, and in September – Meizu Pro 5. So the company Meizu defined the line of smartphones: budget M series, mid-range MX musical flagships Pro.
In October, the announcement of the smartphone Meizu M1 Metal took place – an inexpensive model in a metal case and with the YunOS system. It was only sold in China, so we are not interested. Together with the smartphone, they showed two external batteries M8 and M10 – the latter appeared on sale in Russia a little later.
Meizu M1 Metal
At the end of 2015, Huang Zhang talked about 20 million smartphones sold, while in 2014 only 4.5 million were sold. Also, a representative Meizu in Russia shared the results – a 10-fold increase in sales year-on-year in our market, but the number of devices sold was not reported.
In 2016, she began with the announcement of the branded HD50 on-ear headphones. April became the month of presentations of three smartphones at once: M3 Note, Pro 6 and M3. Budget smartphones have started to be equipped with fingerprint scanners.
Meizu M3 Note
But the most interesting thing happened in May. The sensational online store JD.com announced that it will sell the international version of the smartphone Meizu M3 Note with Russification and an official guarantee in Russia. But they were actually selling the Chinese version with a different firmware. The story did not get a clear ending: the JD.com store deleted the messages with a statement of the warranty and pretended that nothing had happened.
Then the company introduced the MP51 wireless headset and Gravity speaker.
In the second half Meizu, I decided to further expand the line of smartphones and began literally churning out new models. Introduced yet another mid-range MX6, a compact budget M3s Mini, an inexpensive M3E phablet and two glass smartphones U10 and U20. Five smartphones in just July and August!
Also in 2016 Meizu tried to enter the growing wearable electronics market with the Mix smartwatch. It is a symbiosis of a classic mechanical watch with a fitness bracelet. I consider autonomy to be the main feature of the watch – up to 240 days from one battery. They collect information about steps taken, calories burned and other physical activity, report calls, messages and other notifications.
The 6-inch M3 Max phablet was shown in September. And a little later – another state-owned M5 and flagship Pro 6s exclusive to the Chinese market. and the budget M3X, as well as the new flagship Pro 6 Plus and the M5 Note phablet. A new device for the company is a fitness bracelet Meizu Band.
Meizu M3 Max
The year ended ambiguously. In total, the company sold 22 million devices, which is just 2 million more than in 2015. Of these, 2 million are accounted for by sales outside of China. In just a year Meizu introduced 15 smartphones. Amazing!
In 2017, the company noticeably slowed down the pace of new smartphones release, but there are still many of them. In February, they showed an inexpensive and compact M5s, and in May – the cheapest in the M5c line. In the interval between these announcements, brand stores Meizu were opened in St. Petersburg and Moscow.
Meizu M5s / M5c
The most interesting novelties were the Pro 7 and Pro 7 Plus smartphones. They got a dual main camera module and a secondary display on the back, which is used to display notifications, clock, weather, a selfie viewfinder on the main camera, music switching and other simple functions. Journalists and early adopters were ambivalent about smartphones – the main shortcomings were outlined by Roman Belykh in a detailed review.
Meizu Pro 7
Another significant smartphone was the M6 Note, the first device Meizu on a Qualcomm processor. Although, in general, the novelty is a logical continuation of last year's model and does not show anything fundamentally new, except for a dual camera. A little later, the announcement of the state employee M6 took place.
Meizu M6 Note
At the end of 2017, the company sold only 20 million devices – 2 million less than in 2016.
2018 is an important year for Meizu, she will be exactly 15 years old. The first smartphone was Meizu M6s, which was new for the company in many ways. Firstly, it is the first widescreen smartphone Meizu with an 18: 9 screen. Secondly, it abandoned the proprietary mTouch multifunctional button in favor of the software Super mBack, which determines the degree of pressing force. Thirdly, the fingerprint scanner has been moved to the right side, like on Xperia smartphones.
But the M6s will still remain a passable model, as the company will soon unveil the 'anniversary' smartphone Meizu 15. First, a little background. Back in April 2017, Vice President Meizu Li Nan revealed that the company plans to release so-called 'bezel-less' smartphones until it can create a real device with no bezels at the top and bottom, not just on sides. Perhaps this truly frameless smartphone will be Meizu 15 and its 'older' version with the 'Plus' prefix.
A plausible image has already appeared on the net:
According to rumors, the announcement of Meizu 15 will take place in February-March.
As I noted from the text, the first half of life Meizu looks more interesting. Then it ceased to be a small company that lives on its own money and does not depend on anyone, and a real business began. I do not know if this is due to Huang Zhang's departure from the post of director or the attraction of investors.
The company is divided into three divisions: Meizu – the main one, Blue Charm – the development of budget smartphones for China, Flyme OS – the development of a system based on Android. Huang Zhang returned to the position of CEO in mid-2017, and his deputy Bang Yongxiang became the brand director Meizu. Let's see how the reshuffle will affect new products.
Although Meizu does not reach the sales level of Xiaomi and Huawei, it is still a significant player in the Chinese and even Russian markets. Now Meizu sells its devices not only in these countries, but also in many other markets: India, Israel, France, Italy, Ukraine, Spain, Belgium, Brazil, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Cambodia .
That's all, thank you for your attention.