Smartisan T1 Aims to Take On Apple iPhone in China

Apple's newest competition in China is the Smartisan T1, a smartphone dreamed up by a school teacher and executed by Apple's former head of design.

Smartisan T1 smartphone

Luo Yonghao, a former English teacher in China who has gained a following of millions for his willingness to push back against big businesses and the status quo (he once famously led a refrigerator-smashing protest against Siemens), today has his sights on Apple. Far from shaking a fist at Apple, Luo has introduced a smartphone that he hopes will outsell the iPhone.

On May 20, Luo stood before a crowd of 5,000 at the Beijing National Conference Center, and an untold number of others via a livestream, and introduced the Smartisan T1, an Apple-inspired device that he called the "easiest-to-use smartphone in the Eastern Hemisphere."

By most accounts, the T1 looks like a relative of the iPhone and runs a truly improved version of Android. More than its appearance separates it from its piles of Android-running competitors, though. The T1, said to feature a number of thoughtful improvements that, as Forbes reports, "have the potential to become new industry standards."

One of these solves the problem of one-handed use by, when a user swipes the screen a certain way, squeezing all the icons on a screen to the bottom of the display, making each of them easily accessible.

The T1 features a 5.1-inch 1080p display, a 13-megapixel rear camera and a 5-megapixel front camera. According to Luo, it also has the "best screen" and the "fastest mass-produced mobile CPU," The Wall Street Journal reported.

The 2.5-hour presentation was in Mandarin.

The processor is a 2.5GHz Snapdragon, and the phone measures 141 by 68 by 8.23mm. (The Apple iPhone 5S, for context, measures 123.8 by 58.6 by 7.6mm.

Luo contracted out the design of the T1 to the California design company Ammunition, which is headed by Robert Brunner, Apple's former head designer.

Far from making any secret of his admiration for Apple founder Steve Jobs, Luo reportedly referred to Jobs and Apple multiple times during his presentation (even making an uncomfortable joke about not wanting to die the same way Jobs did, but being happy to copy him in all other ways).

In a video about the T1 posted to YouTube, Brunner says that Ammunition's philosophy, which it brought to Smartisan, is to create "beautiful, timeless objects, but with special qualities that people can interact with." Products, he added, "are much more than objects. Products are ideas, and they're things that people have relationships with."

The goal with the T1, he continued, was to create a "perfectly executed device" that's minimal and extremely simple. "Everything was thought out and gone through again and again, and reduced and simplified until what we had was the most basically beautiful thing we could create."

The Smartisan T1 will also follow the iPhone in shooting for the highest end of the smartphone market. It will be priced around $500, which is nearly twice the price of the Xiaomi M3, the top-selling Android smartphone in China.

It will arrive in July—about the time when anticipation of Apple's next iPhone should be reaching a fever pitch.

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