For years, hundreds of millions of Chinese have purchased new smartphones. In the process they lifted the fortunes of local handset makers, from the well known like Huawei and Lenovo to the obscure like Coolpad and Gionee.
The saturated Chinese market — more than 800 million people there use smartphones, according to IDC — means fewer new buyers, and a slowing economy means less spending. So Chinese companies are turning to India, trying to catch a $14.5 billion market on the way up.
"It is India first for us," said Varun Sharma, Coolpad's chief executive of Indian operations. He said Coolpad, a Shenzhen-based company, planned to use its patents and manufacturing infrastructure to sell devices "at $100 price points for the Indian market and not at $800 or $1,000 price points that global brands are doing."
India's smartphone sales are just a fraction of China's. But as one of the fastest-growing smartphone markets in the world, with hundreds of millions of potential new customers, India may indicate whether a new generation of Chinese hardware companies can grow beyond their country's borders.
It is intensely competitive, with more than 150 brands. Among the best-selling brands are several indigenous companies with an inside track on local phone habits. Another top seller is a multinational, Samsung, which has deep experience selling across different cultures.
Xiaomi, the most successful Chinese company in India, owned only 4 percent of the market in the fourth quarter.
Many Chinese companies are trying to make their case directly to potential Indian buyers online. It is a technique pioneered by Xiaomi, which used e-commerce to overcome difficult-to-manage and expensive storefronts and distribution deals in China and now India.
Analysts said companies like his were arriving in their new market at the right time.
"Chinese manufacturers can find a lot of play in India, which is in the early phase of growth, and they can fight for meaningful revenues and profits," said Anshul Gupta, a research director at Gartner.
Even so, many Chinese companies have set ambitious targets for themselves. Coolpad, which will introduce its inexpensive Dazen phone online in coming weeks, said it aims to sell three million to four million smartphones in one year, and 15 million to 20 million in three years.
Xiaomi, now worth $45 billion, moved into the top five sellers in India in the fourth quarter of 2014. Underscoring the company's focus there, the international vice president and former Google executive Hugo Barra recently presided over an Apple-like blowout introductory event in New Delhi for its Mi 4i phone, designed specifically for India. The company says it aims to be the top handset brand in India by 2020.
The smaller Chinese start-up OnePlus, which puts equal emphasis on selling in China and abroad, began selling its flagship One phone in December, and has sold 200,000 phones already. It is shooting to sell a million devices by the end of this year.
In the path of those ambitions are a host of Indian rivals, each hoping to use local knowledge to repeat the success of Chinese phone makers in China. Micromax, which owns the second-largest share of the Indian market after Samsung, is already adapting to the Chinese invasion, holding online-only sales and making some phone models Internet exclusive.
One of the most successful Chinese brands in India so far, Xiaomi has gone to great lengths to create products catering to customers there. Its new Mi 4i phone costs more than many rivals at about $200, but supports six Indian languages, with local engineers working to increase that number.
The company has also built an online store that focuses on India's passions of cricket and Bollywood, and has plans to open 100 stores around the country before the end of the year.