Xiaomi Comes to the U.S. But Not to Sell Phones


Xiaomi, one of the leading smartphone makers, came to the U.S. last week, but not to sell phones. Instead, the company is marketing only headphones and fitness bands in the country. The Chinese company has rocketed since its start in just a short time, and became the third largest smartphone maker in the third quarter of 2014.

The International Data Corporation report says that Xiaomi surpassed Lenovo and LG with a 5.2 percent market share, thanks to its relatively high-quality but low-cost devices. It currently occupies the top position in China and the third in the global market after just four years.

Xiaomi’s smartphone, MIUI, offers a weekly update to its Android phone skin. Though an Android phone, it looks more similar to iOS, and is customized for China with Chinese names, languages and bits of Chinese culture. The firm sells its Mi Note flagship phone for $370 without a contract.

The company is also a big name in replacement batteries, portable chargers, air purifiers, plushy dolls, TVs and other accessories which are both inexpensive and good-looking. Xiaomi products for sale in the U.S. can be bought via the online marketplace Mi.com, which offers the Mi Band health tracker for $13. Analyst Neil Shah tweeted that Xiaomi has potential for growth in the Western market with its 4k TV, which has a price equivalent to an iPhone.

However, U.S. people who want to take hold of the phones might not be able to. Many believed that Xiaomi would bring its smartphones to the U.S. when it hired Hugo Barra in 2013, a former Google exec. It is not currently happening. Barra cited issues of hardware certification, software testing, and other logistical challenges, said The Verge.

From the TechCrunch event liveblog, some saw Xiaomi execs not elaborating on patent-related questions. Xiaomi’s coming to the U.S., but not to sell phones,  could be, according to PC Mag, about the lack of signed agreements due to the complex U.S. networks, which could put the company into legal trouble.

Top U.S. mobile firms like Verizon Wireless, Sprint and AT&T have more control over the phone market than telecom firms in Asia have over their markets. The carrier subsidy system could hinder the Chinese firm in selling inexpensive phones.

Apple is also the top smartphone maker in the U.S., and with Xiaomi’s devices bearing iOS-like platforms, it will be competing with the Cupertino giant directly. It might expose itself to more criticisms in that regard.

The design of Xiaomi’s most recent products are more unique and the company is proving its products and establishing their name. The company engages with customers via the Mi forum, which has 40 million members. Founder Lei Jun told reporters on Thursday that they are friends with their fans. The Chinese OEM seems to be set to try the overseas market. Speculation is that it will start selling Mi devices in Brazil.

Xiaomi’s coming to the U.S., but not to sell phones, can be a good start. It can still be of benefit as it will help expand brand awareness. The customers will slowly get the “feel” of its products first. If it succeeds, it can continue on to selling its devices in the Western market, and become a tough contender of Apple and Samsung.

By Judith Aparri

The Christian Science Monitor

Photo courtesy of World Leaks – Flickr License

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