Xiaomi has a major problem with counterfeits.
The red-hot Chinese electronics startup has been previously criticised by many due to the similarities some of its products bear to Apple’s. But now the smartphone maker is claiming counterfeits and fakes are seriously hurting its bottom line, Bloomberg reports.
At a press conference last week, Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun lamented the proliferation of counterfeit manufacturers capitalising on the company’s wild popularity. “What is the biggest problem? There are so many fakes. If there were no counterfeits, our sales would be double or triple,” Lei said.
It’s a bold claim — Xiaomi is already the largest smartphone seller in China, outstripping both Samsung and Apple. In just 5 years it has grown to become the most valuable private startup in the world, despite the fact it doesn’t sell in Western markets yet, and doesn’t plan to expand for “a few years.”
But the company has also been criticised by those who claim its designs borrow heavily from Apple products. (There’s a good Cult of Android post from 2014 documenting similarities between Xiaomi and Apple designs here.) Founder Lei Jun is also a Steve Jobs-esque figure, even using the iconic “one more thing…” line in his keynote speeches.
Apple design chief Jony Ive has even accused Xiaomi and other companies like it of “theft.”
“I don’t see [similar designs] as flattery,” Ive told an audience in October 2014. “I see it as theft. I have to be honest. The last thing I think is ‘Oh, that is flattering… all those weekends I could’ve been home with my family… I think it’s theft and it’s lazy. I don’t think it’s OK at all.”
In response, Xiaomi president Lin Bin offered to give Ive a Xiaomi phone so he could try it for himself, and VP of international markets Hugo Barra said that “you cannot claim full ownership of any kind of design languages used in our industry.”
More recent Xiaomi smartphones have eschewed an Apple-esque aesthetic in favour of a distinctive glass design. Reviews suggest that it may actually be technically superior to the iPhone, which when combined with the company’s famously loyal fanbase, makes it a potent threat to Apple in Eastern markets — counterfeit woes or no.