Xiaomi, the red-hot $US45 billion startup often referred to as the “Apple of China,” is reportedly working on a smartwatch.
There aren’t many details yet, but according to GSM Arena, the device is going to have a brushed metal design, and will feature a round dial. The tech blog is basing its story on a report by Chinese-language tech site 36Krypton.
The news comes just a week after Apple announced the details of its own smartwatch, the Apple Watch. Xiaomi has previously been criticised for allegedly copying many of of the Cupertino company’s designs — Apple design chief Jony Ive has even described Xiaomi’s products as “theft.” However, its recent products have eschewed Apple’s aesthetic in favour of a new, clean design, and have been generally well-reviewed.
Founded in 2010, the Chinese startup also models itself heavily on Apple. Lei Jun, the founder and CEO, is a charismatic, Steve Jobs-esque figure. And the company has cultivated a extraordinarily loyal fanbase — just like Apple.
These fans are key to Xiaomi’s meteoric rise. A year and a half ago, it was valued at less than $US10 billion; now, it’s the most valuable startup in the world — and it’s done this despite spending almost nothing on advertising.
On sale in April, the Apple Watch starts at $US349 for the most basic “Sport” model, with the luxurious gold Apple Watch Edition retailing between $US10,000 and $US17,000. There’s no indication yet of how much Xiaomi’s own smartwatch will cost — but they’re likely going to be very affordable. One key differentiator between Xiaomi and Apple is just how cheaply Xiaomi’s products sell for: The average price of an Android smartphone is cheaper than ever — but Xiaomi’s devices retail for even less than the average Android device, $US220 to $US254.
Xiaomi hasn’t launched in the West yet, and says it doesn’t intend to for “a few years.” But its new smartwatch is still worrying news for Apple. Spearheaded by Angela Ahrendts, Apple is currently in the midst of an aggressive expansion in China. As the appetite for devices grows in the country — and other emerging markets like India — it’s going to become an ever-more important opportunity for growth.
But Xiaomi is already extremely well-established in China: As of February 2015, it is now the country’s biggest smartphone seller, overtaking Samsung for the first time. Its loyal fanbase prove that Apple isn’t the only tech company out there capable of cultivating devoted supporters — and at a much lower price point, it may prove a more compelling purchase than the Apple Watch for many Chinese consumers.
And one more thing: Xiaomi’s smartwatch is also rumoured to come with “pulse wave velocity identification.” It’s a way of securing the device by identifying the owner based only on their pulse. Phone Arena cautions that it could “be extremely difficult” to implement “considering the amount of energy required to power it.”
But if Xiaomi can manage it, then it will have achieved something even Apple hasn’t done.
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