• Visitors look at Oppo devices during the Mobile World Congress 2017

Visitors look at Oppo devices during the Mobile World Congress 2017 (Photo : Getty Images News)

Duan Yongping, founder of smartphone brands Oppo and Vivo, revealed that they were able to outhustle Apple in China because the latter didn't adapt to local competition.

Once viewed as cheap iPhone knockoffs, Oppo and Vivo shoved Apple Inc. out of the top three in 2016 by using tactics Apple couldn't match due to concerns of jeopardizing its winning formula, such as selling cheap gadgets with high-end features.

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Duan added that Apple has flaws, maybe too stubborn sometimes. The 56-year-old billionaire, who has long been a big-time investor in Apple, says much of his overseas wealth remains tied up in the iPhone maker. He is also a fan of its CEO, Tim Cook.

Chinese smartphone makers are expanding globally to challenge more established global players such as Apple and Samsung.

Dubbed China's Warren Buffett for his investment acumen, Duan has blogged a lot about Apple, which he says is an "extraordinary company" and a model to learn from.

In 2015, he posted that Apple's profit should reach $100 billion within five years. He noted that he is not looking to surpass Apple and is focusing on imporving themselves.

Born in Jiangxi, Duan used to work in a state-run vacuum tube plant, which he left in 1990 to run an electronics plant in Guangdong Province.

His first product was gaming console called the "Subor," which costs 100 yuan to 400yuan. It was endorsed by Hong Kong movie superstar Jackie Chan and became a hit due to the absence of local competitors. By 1995, Subor's revenue exceeded 1 billion yuan.

Duan later ventured into VCD, MP3 and DVD players through the company he founded, known as BBK. In 2000, a subsidiary of BBK, Bubugao Communication Equipment Co., became one of China's biggest feature-phone makers that went head-to-head with Nokia and Motorola.

Duan's Oppo and Vivo, while being sister brands, are also fiercely competing against each other.

Oppo was co-founded in 2005 with Duan's protege, Tony Chen. In 2009, BBK created Vivo, which was led by another of Duan's disciples, Shen Wei.