Xiaomi, the largest smartphone maker in China, and one that most people in the UK will probably never have even heard of, last week launched in the UK, Germany, France and the US.
The startup, now 5 years old, has seen a meteoric rise in the land of the rising sun, with revenues of more than $12 billion in Asia. In fact, the company has been so successful that it’s even overtaken main rival Samsung in its home territory.
Rise of the dragon – Xiaomi launches UK store
Xiaomi has long been called the Apple of China, and for good reason. It’s phones at first glance appear to ape the design principles of Apple’s iPhone (also a huge success in China), and consequently it’s built up a huge and tech-savvy base of fans all over Asia.
Now the company has expanded beyond phones and tablets into smart home technology and lifestyle products, including a $15 fitness tracker and even an action camera.
Xiaomi has become one of the top manufacturers in China, but has so far not expanded into the US and Europe, where it would face stiff competition for its Android-based handsets.
In China, the company sells its flagship handsets, such as the Mi Note and RedMi 2 for less than half what Apple charges, keeping its costs down by selling online only and eschewing the traditional brick-and-mortar stores. It’s a model that’s been incredibly successful, and one that has propelled Xiaomi to be the world’s most valuable ‘startup’.
However, last week, the company launched its online Mi Store, selling (so far) only accessories such as a couple of high capacity power bricks, a fitness band, and headphones.
The online store is surely a precursor to actually launching handsets in the west, and it will be interesting to see how popular its products are. But if its success in China is anything to go by, consumers will likely snap up its cheap-but-good products as fast as it can sell them.
The Mi Store currently has a small selection of products – here’s quick rundown. Note that even when the UK is selected as a delivery option, prices are still shown in $US.
1. The Mi Band
The Mi Band ($14.99 / £9.81) is a colourful fitness tracker that includes a ‘military-grade’ sensor, monitoring your activity throughout the day in terms of walking distance and calories burned. The band features automatic sleep monitoring as well as vibrate alerts when a phone call is received, as well as a wake-up alarm that gently buzzes on the wearer’s wrist.
The Mi Band has been well received in the tech press, and serves as an inexpensive way to get in on fitness tracking. The Band works with Xiaomi phones as well as Android version 4.4 and above (but there’s no iOS option).
Mi Power Bank
Xiaomi has developed a range of power banks at different capacities, to fulfil the needs of any road warrior that needs their phone or tablet to be fully charged all day long. While the power banks are nothing special, they’re well designed and feature high quality components from the likes of LG, Samsung and Texas Instruments.
The 5,000 mAh pack costs just $9,99, the 10,300 mAh version comes in at $13.99, while the super-sized 16,000 mAh battery (which can charge two devices at the same time) is not yet listed to purchase.
3. Mi Headphones
Echoing Apple’s Beats Music and headphone purchase, Xiaomi has also released a range of headphones, predictably called the Mi Headphones. The on-ear version costs $79.99 and boasts specs that would put many similarly priced headphones to shame.
There are also a couple of in-ear models, not yet available for purchase. Presumably, they will be made available in due course.
Xiaomi’s entry into the US and European markets is something of a watershed moment for the company. While they’re only offering accessories today, it’s likely just a matter of time before a selection of their most popular handsets are available.
The key question is whether US and European consumers will be receptive to the idea of buying an unashamedly Chinese company’s products. As far as the devices go, they’re well built, powerful, and generally receive glowing reviews. The issue may be for potential Android customers that as of yet, their phones are devoid of Google’s services such as Google Mail, Maps, and the Play Store. However, Xiaomi will probably rectify that situation and allow future customers direct access to all those services.
If and when Xiaomi releases its phones and tablets in the UK, they’re likely to be very competitively priced. Perhaps Apple hasn’t got much to worry about, but the likes of Samsung, LG and HTC are probably getting a little nervous about the prospect of Xiaomi eating their lunch all over again.