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Designed in China

A while ago, our old electronic water kettle broke down. After a measly 2 years, the thing simply wouldn’t turn on anymore and the manufacturer refused repair.

We bought a new one — this time from Xiaomi. It’s almost comical just how much better of a product the new one compared to the previous, more expensive one, is.

Minimalistic, sleek design vs. clunky, logo-laden monstrosity? Check. Neat UX details like a cable-management nestled into its base or a gradually opening lid to prevent burns by splashes? Yep, gotcha covered. Bluetooth-connectivity, including a well-made app to monitor temperature? Sure, if you need it. All-stainless-steel body? You betcha. Lower price? Actually, yes.

This is just one example of a string of recent experiences I’ve made when buying consumer electronics. Sonic toothbrush, robot vacuum cleaner, air purifier: by and large, Chinese products were not simply the best option within the lowest price segment, but the best option, period.

So, who are some of the players within the Chinese consumer electronics ecosystem, and why are they so competitive?

It’s tempting to conclude that Chinese companies have a leg-up when it comes to hardware, because they are headquartered where all that stuff is made anyway.

More than anything else, though, I think Chinese consumer electronics companies realized that to succeed, they can’t treat software as a nice add-on to be half-heartedly sprinkled on top of the finished hardware – it’s table-stakes to stand out against established brands.

As a result, they’ve become superb at writing capable software to complement their hardware. And they’re iterating relentlessly on the user facing client apps that run on their customer’s smartphones, too.

So, the more consumers get used to having their smartphones as the principal tool to handle parts of their daily routines, the more glaring the outdated attitudes of established brands like Philips, AEG & Samsung become.

Software also isn’t something that companies suddenly and magically become good at. There’s a chicken and egg problem at play here: you need great developers for a proper engineering culture. Likewise, you need a proper engineering culture to attract great developers. So, if a company missed the boat, it usually finds it’s pretty hard to dig itself out of the hole that it dug itself into.

Chinese brands have no existing board of middle-aged managers they need to convince to build a proper app in-house. By virtue of being young and nimble, they simply know that they need great customer experience, rapidly iterted on, to win against larger, more established (and better funded) players. Let’s have a quick look at some of them.


Founded in 2016, Oclean produces smart electric dental care products: sonic toothbrushes, irrigators and accessories. I recently bought their Oclean X Pro model to replace my old one from Philips, since that one broke down after around 3 years of use (see a pattern there?).

In Europe, you can order them off of Amazon, AliExpress or their website.

The experience so far has been flawless: from packaging & pricing to the toothbrush itself (low noise, high-quality brush heads). A particularly nice idea is the magnetic wall-holder, saving some space on the bathroom sink.

Onyx Boox

While the reMarkable tablet popularized note-taking eInk tablets, Boox is the original gangster in this space — their first device came out in 2011, five years before the reMarkable Kickstarter campaign kicked off.

They specialize on eInk devices to this day. What I find appealing about them is their no-nonsense value proposition:

Their staff is also quite responsive on reddit. A niche company that’s hyperfocused on solving a particular problem well.

In Europe, you can order them off Amazon or their website.


Probably the biggest (> 30 Billion USD market cap as of Sept, 2022) and best known company on this list.

Despite their size, they remain community-focused, sourcing ideas from Xiaomi-customers in their own official forums or at fan-gatherings. They even have their own community app.

Apart from their community focus, two things stand out with Xiaomi:


Most of the companies on this list are younger than 10 years. Their business model and product palette is a result of short supply chains and local hardware talent who work within rapid feedback loop informed by internet-first marketing & distribution. They’ve come a long way in a mere decade — I suspect their competitors will be in for a wild ride in the next one.