The little gadget was bootleg gold, a secret treasure I'd spent months tracking down. The miniOne looked just like Apple's iPhone, down to the slick no-button interface. But it was more. It ran popular mobile software that the iPhone wouldn't. It worked with nearly every worldwide cellphone carrier, not just AT&T, and not only in the U.S. It promised to cost half as much as the iPhone and be available to 10 times as many consumers. The miniOne's first news teases—a forum posting, a few spy shots, a product announcement that vanished after a day—generated a frenzy of interest online. Was it real? When would it go on sale? And most intriguing, could it really be even better than the iPhone?
I made a hastily arranged flight to China to find out. Ella Wong, a marketing manager at Meizu, the Chinese company building the new phone, had invited me to come to the annual Hong Kong Electronics Fair only days before it began this April. We had been trading e-mails for weeks, negotiating access to the miniOne and the operation that produced it. Meizu cloned Apple's iPod Nano last year, establishing itself as a significant force in a music-player market far larger than Apple's: international consumers who had little access to either Macintosh computers or the iTunes music store. The miniOne was going to be on display at the fair, and Jack Wong, Meizu's CEO, would also be there. If I made a good impression, I would be invited to the company's headquarters and research facility on the mainland. "You'll be warmly welcome," Wong wrote me. Read More.