Xiaomi, the startup that makes wildly popular Android phones in China, has plans to start selling its devices in the US, the company’s vice president Hugo Barra told Bloomberg’s Emily Chang.
But it’s not going to happen any time soon. Barra said it would take at least a year for the company to build out the necessary distribution and customer support to start selling phones in the US.
Xiaomi is Apple’s biggest rival in China. It sells phones with specs that are just as good as high-end iPhones or Samsung Galaxy phones, but typically cost half as much.
Apple and Xiaomi consistently sell more phones in China than any other manufacturer, with Apple on top in recent quarters since the launch of the iPhone 6.
The company is often criticised for borrowing heavily from Apple’s designs. The critics say that Xiaomi gets away with copying Apple because China has looser restrictions on patents. But if Xiaomi does come to the US, it risks lawsuits like the high-profile Apple versus Samsung case from a few years ago.
Barra told Chang that Xiaomi is building up the protections it needs to battle any potential lawsuits like that.
Xiaomi phones are pretty good too, and if they do come to the US they will give you a premium experience at a fraction of the cost of the iPhone.
However, it would likely be a bigger threat to companies like Samsung since Xiaomi phones also use Android. Samsung has seen smartphone sales rapidly decline over the last two years mostly because people are buying cheaper premium phones like those made by Xiaomi. iPhones sales continue to grow despite the higher price.
In the meantime, Xiaomi will continue to focus on selling its phones in emerging markets where most people don’t have smartphones yet. China is still the company’s biggest market, and it has recently made a big push in India.
Xiaomi announced a few weeks ago that it has sold 34.7 million smartphones so far this year.
You can watch Chang’s interview with Barra here: