LePad, China’s answer to the iPad
By George Chen
The opinions expressed are the author’s own.
If Apple calls its tablet computer the iPad, what will China’s Lenovo name its new rival product? The answer: LePad. No kidding.
Lenovo CFO Wong Wai Ming said during an interview at Reuters offices in Beijing on December 13, when attending this week’s China Investment Summit, that the world’s No.4 PC maker would launch its LePad tablet computer in China within the next few weeks and was also planning a smartphone to run on China Mobile’s TD-SCDMA 3G network as it moves beyond its traditional PC base.
I’m not trying to give a free advertisement for Lenovo’s LePad in my column today. The reason I raise the matter is mainly to draw your attention to how fast Chinese companies can react to new international consumer trends and the quick success of new products such as Apple’s iPad. In less than half a year, ZTE Corp launched a tablet PC in October that sold for a far lower price than the iPad, even though it looks very much the same.
Many analysts have identified consumer-driven telecommunications, media and technology sectors as hot themes for stock market investment next year as Chinese consumers, in particular the young generation, become increasingly keen to shop and spend.
And that’s exactly what the Chinese government wants – to transform its economic structure and make it less reliant on exports and more on domestic consumption.
In fact, Chinese consumption has grown by more than 9 percent per year, after adjustments for inflation, over the past decade. Chinese consumers are also becoming more sensitive to global trends and brands, often adopting new products such as the iPad as symbols of the new rich class.
China overtook the United States as the world’s leading automobile market in 2009. The real-estate market is also on fire, swelling demand for appliances and furniture. China is No. 2 in sales of luxury goods. Find more interesting facts about the growing buying power of Chinese consumers in my colleague Alan Wheatley’s special report “The Chinese consumer awakens”.
Recent successful listings by Chinese Internet companies in the United States, for example Youku.com, have convinced more investors of their confidence in the young generation of Chinese consumers. Even the parent company of Renren.com is soon likely to become one of the biggest and probably most popular Chinese Internet IPOs in recent years.
From the name Youku.com, I’m sure you can guess it aims to copy the success of Google’s YouTube.com. In Chinese, the word “ren” means people. Renren.com is China’s No.1 social-networking site at present and known as a Facebook.com copycat. If you do some research of your own, you can certainly find more stories like that in China.
Remember the stories about how the Japanese copied the successes of American industries from TVs to sedans in the 1960s and 70s? Eventually, by the late 1980s, the Japanese were able to change people’s perceptions. Consumers saw Japan as an innovator rather than a copier, and domestic automakers such as Toyota started really beating old American legends like Chrysler and Ford.
Can success be really copied so easily and rapidly today?
From the iPad to LePad in a matter of eight months, will LePad be as successful as the iPad or the ThinkPad, the laptop business that Lenovo acquired from IBM in a landmark deal in 2005? Chinese consumers hold the key to that answer.
But for Lenovo’s top boss Liu Chuanzhi, I do have a more challenging question to measure the real success of his company: Mr. Liu, Have you thought about someday creating something that will compel Apple’s Steve Jobs to quickly take notice and try to reproduce? That will be the key to China’s success, not just one company for the next few decades!
(Also read George’s column “What the iPad means for China” on Reuters.com)
George Chen is a Reuters editor and columnist based in Hong Kong.
Photo: A salesman opens the door of a Lenovo store at the Zhongguancun computer marketplace in Beijing August 19, 2010. REUTERS/Jason Lee