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Rising smartphone stars look to outshine Apple

For mobile makers there's no bigger prize than conquering the emerging markets of India and China. Around 2.5 billion people live in the two countries, 36 percent of the world's population, and convincing each of them to upgrade to a smartphone handset would be a coup.

India will overtake the U.S. by 2017 as the world's second biggest smartphone market, according to the International Data Corporation (IDC), joining China in the top spot. Nine in every ten mobiles now sold in China is a smartphone, the latest data from Counterpoint Research shows. But sales aren't reaching the same saturation points they are in developed markets.

According to German research company GfK, in the second quarter of 2013, overall mobile and tablet sales in China reached 1318.8 billion yuan ($215 billion), a rise of 42.3 period compared with the same period of last year.

Apple launched its lower-cost iPhone with a plastic cover with this market in mind, but its pricing might still deter many consumers in emerging market consumers.

(Read More: An 'emerging' threat to Samsung, and it's not Apple)

While Apple might be tipped to fail, many local vendors have found huge success in the sector. Homegrown Asian smartphone brands shipped 119 million units in the second quarter of 2013, according to research firm IDC, up 10 percent on the quarter and up 75 percent from the same time last year.

Strip out the large global brands like ZTE and Huawei and there are promising statistics from the local vendors that mainly ship to their own markets. These up-and-coming players comprised 38 percent of Asia-Pacific second quarter volumes, IDC said, up from 20 percent in the same quarter of 2012.

(Read more: Smartphone 'saturation' fears for Apple, Samsung)

CNBC highlights just a few of the rising stars that are making waves in these key smartphone markets.

By Matt Clinch, CNBC.com
Posted October 2013

Disclaimer: IDC has business relationships with most of the vendor phone companies mentioned in this slideshow

Micromax

Based in the northern Indian city of Gurgaon, Micromax is the real local powerhouse when it comes to mobile phones. In terms of units shipped, the company are only second to Samsung, controlling 22 percent of market share.

Once known for its feature phones, the firm now has a range of "phablets" courtesy of its Canvas range, and has several new tablet devices. Rumors persist that the Indian company is on the verge of following its Western peers by releasing its first full-HD display smartphone.

Kiranjeet Kaur, a senior market analyst at IDC, told CNBC that Micromax has created some buzz with its impressive marketing campaigns. It has solid distribution throughout India and has built its success with lots of low-cost smartphones. Micromax's latest Bolt A40 smartphone, aimed primarily at the lower end of the market, is set to be priced at around 5,299 Indian rupees ($85).


Karbonn

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India's second-biggest player. This device maker uses aggressive marketing techniques to gain a solid foothold in India's market shares, and is now the sponsor of the country's Champions League T20 cricket tournament.

Apart from its A series of smartphone devices, it recently launched a Titanium range. The flagship Titanium S9, priced at 19,900 Indian rupees ($323), was released in July and is powered by a MediaTek 1.2 GHz quad core processor.

The new range is picking up in the Indian market, according to Kaur. "These phones boast of high specifications at competitive prices, a must in the price-sensitive Indian consumer market," she said in a press release in August.

Coolpad

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China's number three, according to IDC, with 11 percent of 86 millions smartphones shipped in the country in the last quarter. Located in south China's major high-tech hub of Shenzen, the Coolpad brand belongs to Yulong Telecommunications.

With an American subsidiary opening, the company clearly has global expansion on its mind, although analysts warn this will not be easy.

But for the time being it can be content with its Chinese offering. It can develop products faster than its peers by cooperating with domestic operators such as China Mobile, China Unicom, China telecom, according to experts.

Xiaomi

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This is the local vendor that is making the most noise worldwide, and for many its is the one company that can rise to the heights of Huawei and ZTE as a truly global outfit.

Xiaomi turned heads earlier in the year when Hugo Barra, once vice-president for Android product management at Google, joined the Chinese company with reports that he is planning to help it expand outside greater China.

(Read More: China's Xiaomi 'new disruptive force' in smartphone market)

"It is very good in online advertising and is in the process to develop a business model not relying on profit from hardware, but profit from mobile internet service," Nomura Securities analyst Leping Huang told CNBC, predicting that Xiaomi may soon become the largest domestic smartphone brand in the Chinese market in terms of revenue. The company is currently valued at $10 billion.

Lava

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"We put the art in smart," says the sales pitch on Lava's website. This Indian mobile maker prides itself on its sleek design and its high-tech innovation. It might not have the same market share as its two bigger rivals but it can be considered in the same disruptive group of local vendors, according to IDC, which says the group has successfully transitioned from feature phones to smartphones.

Lava launched a new mid-range Android smartphone last month, the Iris 505 priced at 9,499 Indian rupees ($154).

Maxx

Maxx

Offering smartphones which start at just $50 right up to the top of the range AX9Z which retails at 7,500 Indian rupees ($122), Maxx aims for maximum value, according to the company ethos.

It is one of India's smaller brands in terms of market share but Maxx has already made inroads into other emerging markets like Africa, the Middle East and the rest of south Asia.

Released in May, the AZ9Z Race offers a dual-core smartphone with Android Jellybean and an 8.0 megapixel camera.

Gionee

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With development centers in Shenzen, Shanghai and Hangzhou, Gionee is a Chinese firm with its eyes on all emerging markets. The company says that exports for overseas markets has reached 1 million phones per month.

Gionee recently launched the Dream D1 in India to very positive reviews. A quad-core Android smartphone for 16,500 Indian rupees ($269) with what it says is the "best display known to man".

Oppo

Oppo

This Chinese firm has really aimed for the high end. Its Find 5 Android smartphone is available to Amazon customers unlocked for $500 and its new N1 model, released officially in September, shouldn't be far behind.

The new N1 smartphone offers a camera that can swivel 206-degrees to face forwards and backwards. The company says that it is the "world's first rotating smartphone camera". It is a perfect example of the decent design that the brand offers, Huang told CNBC.

"Oppo has established itself as a high-end local brand," said Huang. "(It helps) Oppo to differentiate with other local brands, and sell it at a much higher average selling price."

Intex

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Headquartered in New Delhi, Intex has been around for 17 years and is devoted to its home market. Now focusing on the world of smartphones after success with feature phones, the company has just released updates to its Aqua range.

The Aqua HD is its new Android flagship with a 1.2GHz quad-core MediaTek chip inside. Set to retail at around $15,900 Indian rupees ($259), it's joined by its smaller brother, the dual-core Aqua i4 which is likely to set users back by 9,490 Indian rupees ($155).

"The company is all geared up to enhance presence in (Indian cities) and is targeting increased revenue by 400 percent from the mobile division," the company said in a press release.