Stubborn Maverick Huang Zhang and his Meizu smartphones

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“Probably due to the fact that we were never dependent on investments, Meizu did not experience either global failure or global success. Going further is more important than just going faster! ” - Meizu CEO believes Bai Yongxiang. We don’t have external financing, we don’t deal with the sticker of the Meizu logo on ready-made standard devices, thanks to the creative, aesthetic component, Meizu is a unique manufacturer of attractive phones that anyone can appreciate, regardless of their preferences.

In the north of Zhuhai, known as the “Romantic City," Meizu is headquartered. Last autumn rain refreshed city streets and near the road, among green trees, we saw the office of CEO of Meizu Bai Yongxiang, here he usually receives journalists, talks about the path of creating the company that they walked together: Mr. Yongxiang and Meizu founder, Huang Zhang ( Huang Zhang).

Mad Huang Zhang

When you name Huang Zhang, few people understand who they are talking about, but Jack Wong is known to everyone who has ever been interested in Meizu. Mr. Zhang never gives an interview and remains completely unknown outside the company. The only way he voices his opinions is the Meizu forum, where Mr. Zhang is known as J.Wong. “He is a real mentor: rarely intervenes, but always watches what is happening,” Bai describes him.

As soon as the Meizu M9 smartphone gained some fame, Zhang began to move away from the Meizu business, transferring various routine affairs to Yongxiang, he focused on developing the device design and interface. Zhang rarely appears in the company’s office, mainly working at home, so his spacious office on the fifth floor of the headquarters is always empty, without a trace of the presence of the owner. It is this office that is used by the management department to receive VIP guests.

Bai says Zhang is a big fan of music and one hundred percent geek. “He has an innate passion for electronic devices. He can take the Meizu device prototype home and use it continuously for a month, and then put forward a proposal on how to change the back cover radian, ”says Bai.

At home, Zhang collected not only various expensive musical equipment and special equipment, he went much further: he broke and rebuilt the walls and ceiling of the house, and only to improve the acoustics! He once told Bai: “At first, I had big problems with the equipment, but soon I thought, maybe the problem is in the cord, which immediately replaced. Until today, I could not even imagine that replacing one cord can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Then I decided that maybe there was a problem in the house, there was a slight vibration on the floor, so I had to replace it. Then I had doubts about the lighting in the room, and replaced it. And in the end, they also had to break down the walls, because the cable was incorrectly laid in them. Similar suspicions arose constantly until

“Most entrepreneurs are more interested in the success and profitability of the company, but Zhang is different from them. His passion for detail and the pleasure with which he works on them is something that is difficult for us to understand, ”says Bai.

From MP3 player to smartphone

It was Zhang’s addiction in music and digital technology that determined Meizu’s initial focus on MP3 devices. “The company began its activities in 2003, when the boom on MP3 devices just started. From the very beginning to this day, Meizu has had no investors; at the initial stage, we were completely dependent on Zhang’s income, ”Bai recalls.

It is curious that the first MP3 player released by Meizu was called the MX, like the current flagship among smartphones. We call it “life from MX to MX”. However, the “then” MX, an MP3 player, was less known and popular than the current MX smartphone, which I hold in my hands. According to Bai, "this was only the beginning."

The biggest success of Meizu, which led the company to the leader among manufacturers of players in China in 2006, was the mini player, which went on sale that same year. This MP3 player was distinguished from the others by two important features: a touch screen and a seamless body that were still rare in players on the Chinese market. “And although our mini-player could not compete with the Apple iPod in popularity around the world, it was the leader in sales in our country,” says Bai.

In the same 2006, various phones with a dominant musical component from Sony Ericsson, Motorola and Nokia began to conquer the market. All said that the era of MP3 players will soon end, and they will be replaced by “smart phones”.

“The love of music and electronic devices determined that at the beginning of the company’s journey, we started producing MP3 players. Then we began to monitor changes in society more and found that now everyone has a mobile phone, he suddenly became necessary for everyone. It is he who will develop and change, and will never disappear, unlike MP3 players, who have a vague future and the threat of being crowded out by other devices at any time, ”says Bai.

According to him, manufacturers of MP3 players have only two options: to reduce the cost of production of the device and / or to be satisfied with a small niche of consumers. “Both options do not suit us. We realized that a smartphone can incorporate all the functions of an MP3 player and what exactly is the future of the industry for smartphones. ”

Born in agony. Meizu M8

At the end of 2006, Meizu decided to redesign its business for the production of smartphones. In Zhang’s dreams, the Meizu phone was supposed to be intelligent, have a large touch screen with multi-touch support and fast Internet access.

Nevertheless, the initial period fell on the “dark days” of the smartphone industry, which came after the appearance of the Apple iPhone, January 9, 2007, which radically changed our understanding of smartphones and the entire industry as a whole. Before the release of the Android operating system at the end of 2008, it was still a long time. At the end of 2006, Mr. Zhang chose between three operating systems: Windows Mobile, Linux, and Win CE.

The reason Meizu did not choose Windows Mobile, in contrast to the same company Dopod (HTC brand for the Azit region), was an unsuccessful user interface. “At Microsoft, they simply transferred their ideas from the computer operating system to the telephone, retaining all the functions, which negatively affected the ease of management and the aesthetic component. Obviously, this was not what Meizu needed, ”says Bai.

At the same time, the amount of license fees from each device based on Windows Mobile significantly exceeded $ 10. Actually, this was the second reason why Meizu abandoned Windows Mobile. Meanwhile, Meizu's engineering team consisted of only 18 people, which was not enough to deal with Linux, so Win CE remained the only reasonable option for Meizu.

“Win CE is in some ways an embedded operating system, used primarily in automotive navigators, both embedded and standalone, in engineering equipment and other industrial devices,” says Bai. “Win CE, in fact, is not an operating system for mobile phones, since it does not have a data transfer protocol or corresponding modules for installing applications. But worst of all, it does not have a ready-made interface for a Wi-Fi module. Many things seemed completely incomprehensible to us. Our engineers worked 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is hard to imagine how much of our energy we put into the decision-making process and how difficult it was for us to find it.

But most of all the difficulties awaited us with the touch screen. Meizu got its first knowledge about capacitive touch screens from the sales manager of the British manufacturer Quantum. “We were very inspired when we saw the sample - transparent glass on which the sensor layer was installed. From that moment on, we started working with Quantum on the production of touch screen phones, ”says Bai.

“We worked on the touch screen throughout the year, but still there were unresolved issues. Firstly, the touch was not accurate; secondly, the identification point was not stable after touching; and thirdly, the linear function was very bad, we couldn’t even draw a straight line across the entire screen, ”says Bai. “We tried all possible methods: it was at least possible to use the device, but it was impossible to put it on the market.”

“This was our hardest year. No matter how rich your imagination is, you still cannot imagine all our torment. But if you suffer for a long time, then anyway you will end up with something, ”says Bai. Meizu later found a new partner, Synaptics, and solved the problem with the touch screen. Synaptics is one of the three leading touch screen manufacturers in the world. The other two, Apple and ATMEL, the latter later acquired Quantum.

The fine line between perseverance and paranoia

But even the strongest love does not happen without problems. And although the touch screen problem was successfully resolved in the M8, which began to conquer the market, some users after some period of use had problems with the touch screen caused by production shortcomings.

Under pressure from a large number of dissatisfied users, Meizu was forced to make a statement that anyone who comes across a defective M8 can exchange it for a new, working one for free. Fortunately, the profit that the company received in 2007 due to successful sales of the mini-player helped to fulfill the promise, ”adds Bai.“ The Meizu M8 allowed us to seriously express ourselves in the smartphone market. Even now, many people remember him with warmth. ”

Bai says that the South Korean company iRiver was once one of the most famous manufacturers of MP3 players. Sales of iFP devices exceeded even iPod sales. But missing the opportunity for timely transformation at a time when the era of MP3 players began to end, the company slowly but surely went into oblivion.

“Some time later, director Huang Zhang and I met several iRiver directors in Shenzhen. They admitted that at one time they thought about switching to the production of mobile phones, but did not risk it, since, according to their estimates, the costs would have amounted to as much as $ 170 million! When we at Meizu did what we did, we practically did not risk anything, since we had nothing. In other words, if not for our perseverance and perseverance, if not for the appearance of the M8, Meizu would not have died long ago! ”

In the production of smartphones, the company shows consistency, sometimes bordering on "stubbornness." For example, take the Meizu MX screen resolution of 960x640 pixels, which is a 3: 2 ratio and differs significantly from the current 16: 9 ratio. The reason that we do not change the proportions to the generally accepted ones is because Zhang believes that the wider screen, which displays more words horizontally, is easier to read.

At one time, only Meizu and iPhone 4 / 4s were devices on the market with a similar resolution, but already in iPhone 5 they switched to a narrower 16: 9 resolution. In a word, Meizu remains the only Android-based player who has not abandoned the old proportions (the interview was being prepared before MeizuMX2 entered the market).

Of course, this decision has its own price and its consequences. Meizu should negotiate directly with software manufacturers and convince them to maintain a 3: 2 resolution. But the developers do not make a special bet on Meizu due to its insignificant presence in the market. As a result, pictures of many applications (especially games) are artificially stretched and look a little flat.

But, along with this, Meizu is following user reviews: it has already been confirmed that the next generation of MX2 will use a new screen resolution (1280x800 pixels, aspect ratio 16:10).

The next step: we focus on user convenience, not on the pursuit of impressive features

Many people working in this area believe that the prices for Meizu devices are strange: “the cost of a quad-core MX smartphone is almost 12 thousand rubles (2399 yuan). Not so much, but still not affordable for low-income users; not too much, but not cool enough for the discerning consumer ... ”says one of the experts in this field in an interview with Sina Science and Technology.

Bai admits that “Meizu’s annual sales of smartphones are small, but it is growing steadily at around 1 million units per year. We never published official sales statistics because we don’t want to lie. Our position - we either do not speak at all, or we speak the truth. "

“On the one hand, we strive to create the best smartphone, and on the other, we are forced to maintain a stable income.” Bai shows the back cover of the Meizu MX: “It is made using double injection molding technology - white inside and transparent outside, resembling a crystal. The processing process is very complex. Pressing is done first, and then the inner white layer is grinded down on the machine to make the lid thinner. ”

Bai says that many inconspicuous but expensive engineering solutions in Meizu products, including black PCB and metal frame, cause an increase in the cost of the device. “In order to guarantee the high quality of the smartphone, Meizu still does not use third-party collectors. All components and components are delivered to Meizu headquarters, where they assemble the devices. ”

While other manufacturers are striving for maximum technical specifications, prices and market dominance, at Meizu all efforts and time are spent on the production of what the company considers worthy and correct. The company stands apart from all global trends, with the exception of the tradition of releasing a new device every year.

“Probably due to the fact that we were never dependent on investments, Meizu did not experience either global failure or global success. Going further is more important than just going faster! ” - Bai recalls Zhang's favorite saying, which he usually inspires with the company. For him, the final product is always more important than anything else.

“Meizu is betting on the future: someday, Chinese users will no longer pay attention to insane technical specifications and price tags, someday they will want something more. And then the Meizu era will come, ”says the head of the company.

Original interview
Translation into English

In the near future in our blog on "Habré" there will be a detailed review of the Meizu MX2 smartphone, as well as disassembly of the device. We remind you that you can also find all the news on the official Russian-language website Meizu , and on the forum you can ask questions on our smartphones and get tips from device owners.

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