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Android OS has come a long way since it was first launched a decade ago. Today, Android is not only powering smartphones and tablets – but everything from Set-Top Boxes and Advertising Displays, to Smart Home and IoT systems.
In this article, we explain what importers must know about Android and technology licensing terms, product compliance requirements – and what you must look for when sourcing Android device manufacturers in China.
Overview of Android Enabled Devices
The Android OS is not just for phones and tablets. The Android OS has evolved since its initial launch, and is now used in the following products:
GPS Navigation Systems
Car Entertainment Systems
Smart Home / IoT (Internet of Things) Devices
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‘Where are most Android Device Manufacturers located?’
Most Android device manufacturers are located in Shenzhen, in China’s southern Guangdong province.
Shenzhen is, by far, the world’s largest electronics manufacturing cluster, with a huge ecosystem of component factories and assembly manufacturers – combined with quality, compliance and logistics services.
Shenzhen is also the most accessible city in Mainland China, as it’s directly connected with Hong Kong – and offering a 5 day visa on arrival at the border.
‘What should I look for when sourcing Android Device Suppliers?’
China’s electronics ecosystem is vast. It fits everything from the very cutting edge of tech and hardware, to illegal basement operations.
You can’t just go on the internet, pick a supplier and hope for the best.
a. Product Compliance: Can they provide test reports and certificates? A supplier that cannot prove ‘previous compliance’ with the Low Voltage Directive, R&TTE, FCC or UL standards, should not even be considered.
Importing a non-compliant product is illegal, and most suppliers cannot manufacture devices that comply with European Union or United States product safety standards and other regulations.
b. Business Scope: Are you dealing with a wholesaler or a specialized electronics manufacture? There is a huge difference between the two, so you better take a closer look at the supplier’s business scope.
c. Registered Capital: A supplier with 500,000 RMB, or less, in registered capital, is less likely to be a manufacturer. Buying electronics from wholesalers is (due to product compliance risks) not an option.
As such, you need to weed out all suppliers – but those that are specialized in your product category. This is related to the business scope, but the registered capital is one more signal you can use to find the right android device supplier.
d. Quality Management Systems and Factory Audit Reports: Some suppliers understand that transparency can be a money maker. Suppliers that can provide (verifiable) third party audit reports, or quality management certification, should make it on your shortlist.
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That said, most suppliers treat their ODM products more as ‘templates’, rather than proper products.
This has two major implications for buyers:
a. ODM products can be modified. While the standard ODM spec may only include a certain bluetooth version, and resolution – most ODM products can be both upgraded and downgraded, to suit your requirements.
b. The supplier still expect you to provide a complete spec sheet, including a compliance requirements list and bill of materials. This is counter intuitive, given that an ODM product is by definition developed by the product.
However, basically all suppliers are OEMs first, and ODMs second.
As such, you need to ‘reverse engineer’ the suppliers spec sheets, and get them confirmed before mass production.
a. Your product must be manufactured in compliance with all mandatory safety standards and directives (i.e., Low Voltage Directive, FCC and R&TTE)
b. You may need to submit your products for compliance testing, and maintain test reports for a minimum of 10 years.
c. You must issue a Declaration of Conformity or Technical File, that must be maintained for a minimum of 10 years.
d. The product and the packaging must carry all compliance marks (i.e., CE, WEEE and FCC) and other labels (i.e., warning labels)
e. Your product must be delivered with a user guide
Keep in mind that regulatory requirements apply to both the product, and its subsystems. If you import Android Tablets, you must, for example, provide test reports and compliance documents for both the tablet itself, the battery and the AC adapter.
So, why not only work with suppliers that got their compliance documents sorted?
Because it simply doesn’t exist. There is not a single manufacturer (yes, not one), that will invest time and money into ensuring full compliance with EU and US regulations – only to let importers buy the ‘ready made and compliant’ products for a factory price.
All too often, importers make the faulty assumption that technology licensing is somehow the manufacturer’s problem. Not theirs.
Many importers don’t even consider the implications (and resulting costs) of using Bluetooth, and other technology.
The same thing goes for other technologies developed by, for example, Apple and Samsung. Want to make your device compatible with the Apple lightning connector cable? That’s an 8 dollar license fee – per manufactured unit.
Let me explain how this work.
When you go to an OEM manufacturer, to get your Android device manufactured – this product is ‘new’ and therefore not covered by existing technology licenses.
As such, the supplier is not obliged to offer any support at all when it comes to the licensing.
Nor should they – it’s not their job to act as an international legal adviser for their customers.
Hence, it is up to you to secure all required licenses before importing products – be it to get your product Bluetooth enabled – or make your product compatible with Apple devices.
If your supplier has ever claimed to hold such licenses, trust but verify. Always ask for documentation that can be verified with a third party – preferably the IP owner.
I doubt that most small businesses, even know that they have to pay technology license fees, and take Bluetooth functionality and other tech for granted.
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Co-founder of Asiaimportal (HK) Limited and based in Hong Kong. He has been quoted in and contributed to Bloomberg, SCMP, Alibaba Insights, Globalsources.com, China Chief Executive, Quartz Magazine and more.
Hey there, I’m Fredrik!
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