Unless you’re familiar with the Chinese tech scene or follow the mobile market closely, you’re probably not that familiar with Xiaomi.
But last year it quietly passed Samsung to become the number-one smartphone seller in China, and its CEO recently posted on his personal blog that the company sold 61 million handsets last year — three times as many as it had sold in 2013 — and booked more than $US12 billion in revenue.
One common criticism of Xiaomi is that the company is simply imitating Apple, pumping out cheaper imitations of the iPhone with no respect for Apple’s intellectual property.
But industry analyst Ben Thompson, who lives in Taiwan and follows the mobile industry closely, thinks that’s a gross oversimplification.
In fact, he writes, Xiaomi is a lot more like Apple than most westerners realise.
The company doesn’t just sell smartphones. It also sells a bunch of products that don’t really seem related, like a 3D television with a 47-inch curved screen, home routers, and air and water purifiers. A lot of these products use a common interface — the MiUI — but more importantly, they represent a particular kind of lifestyle.
In other words, Xiaomi has its hardcore fans — as Apple did long before it became the world’s largest tech company.
These fans, Thompson writes, tend to be in their 20s and probably still live at home with their parents, which is fairly common in China.
But eventually, they will grow up and have to furnish their homes with things like air purifiers. And Xiaomi will be ready to sell them.
But Xiaomi’s rapid growth so far suggests it’s on its way to creating the kind of brand loyalty that could turn it from a rising star into a juggernaut.
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