Xiaomi — the red-hot Chinese smartphone startup often referred to as the “Apple of China” — is to launch in Europe later this year, the Guardian reports. However, it won’t be selling its smartphones. Instead, the company plans to open an online store that will sell branded accessories like earphones and fitness trackers.
The Chinese company is doing the same in the US — starting small, with an online presence that introduces the brand to new markets slowly. Exec Hugo Barra has previously said Xiaomi won’t be selling its smartphones in the US or Europe for a “few years.” And more recently, Barra said the West isn’t “at the top of our priority list.”
Nonetheless, this move will bring Xiaomi’s brand to Europe for the first time and start to build consumer awareness. In its native China, the company has a incredibly passionate fanbase, despite spending almost nothing on advertising. Its now overtaken Samsung as the single-largest smartphone seller in the country, and is worth more than $US46 billion, making it the most valuable tech startup in the world.
Xiaomi has previously been criticised over its designs, which have looked suspiciously similar those of Apple’s. Apple design chief Jony Ive has gone so far as to call it “theft.” But more recent smartphones from Xiaomi have eschewed this copycat look in favour of a simple, elegant glass aesthetic. (CEO Lei Jun even mocked Apple’s designs during the Mi Note’s unveiling.) And reviews of the phones suggest they’re even more powerful than Apple’s, while retailing for far less.
The company may not launch its phones in Europe or the US for years. For now, its focus is on other markets like India and Brazil. But this move to sell accessories shows it is determined to get on consumers’ radars before it does. And if it can build its brand in the West with anywhere near as much success as it has at home, Apple should be worried.
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