Xiaomi, the buzzy Chinese startup that makes high-quality smartphones and sells them for half the cost of the iPhone or Samsung Galaxy, unveiled its new flagship phone, the Mi4, in China last week.
The Mi4 dominated the news cycle for much of the morning: A smartphone with a sharp 5-inch screen and powerful specs that you can buy for just $US320. That’s quite a deal.
But the glow didn’t last long. By the time the Western press got ahold of Xiaomi’s announcement, the inevitable cries that yet another Apple copycat had emerged began to overshadow the news that the fastest-growing smartphone maker in the world had a new flagship phone that was all but guaranteed to sell like hotcakes.
Hugo Barra, the ex-Google executive who’s been working for Xiaomi since last fall, denied the accusations. He told The Verge shortly after the Mi4 announcement that all the howling about Xiaomi copying Apple were just “sweeping sensationalist statements” from folks who hadn’t spent enough time with Xiaomi products to realise they’re actually very different.
This set off John Gruber of Daring Fireball who has been curating evidence that Xiaomi isn’t just influenced by Apple, it appears to literally copy and paste Apple’s work and pass it off as its own.
During the Mi4 event, Xiaomi’s CEO Lei Jun (who, by the way, is known for dressing in black shirts, jeans, and sneakers just like Steve Jobs did), introduced a new fitness band that was teased with a “One more thing…” slide, a tactic Apple made famous back in the day when it had a surprise announcement.
Finally, it’s tough to deny that the Mi4 looks very similar to the iPhone 5S:
Or that Xiaomi’s tablet, the Mi Pad, looks nearly identical to the iPad Mini. It even has the same screen size and resolution:
Things get even more amusing if you dig through more of Xiaomi’s marketing materials.As Gruber pointed out, the website that shows off the Mi3’s camera uses photos from sources like National Geographic and copyrighted photos from professional photographers on Flickr and passes them off as images taken with the phone.
For example, here’s an original, copyrighted photo from a professional on Flickr:
And here are Xiaomi’s marketing images:
We reached out to Barra again and presented much of the evidence above. Given that Xiaomi was busted for ripping pages right out of Apple’s playbook, we thought it was worth giving Barra another shot to explain.
But Barra remained firm in his original statement that Xiaomi doesn’t copy Apple. We communicated via email, so it was tough to tell if Barra winked before he dug his heels in and replied: “I always mean what I say.”
Still, Xiaomi is an incredible success story. Its phones are only available in a handful of countries right now, but it has plans to expand to more emerging markets like Brazil and India later this year. Plus, Xiaomi already sells more phones in China than Apple does and poses a very real threat to Samsung, the largest smartphone maker in the world, because its Android phones do pretty much the same thing, but cost half as much.
Xiaomi doesn’t have any immediate plans to expand to the U.S. or Europe, but as TechCrunch’s Matt Burns pointed out, it’s going to have to rethink its marketing strategy and eliminate anything that even smells like copying Apple or other competitors if it wants to stand a chance.