A giant is rising in China, a giant capable of taking on both Apple and Samsung in the smartphone arena and you’ve probably never even heard of them. The company is called Xiaomi (pronounced Shi-a-omi) and it’s part of a rising culture of manufacturers who have taken Google’s Android OS and changed (or forked) it. The first of the big companies to do it successfully was Amazon who forked Android for its Kindle Fire range of tablets which have been modified so heavily that no traces of the Google ecosystem are present on the device. Xiaomi follows suit with their MIUI (pronounced Me-you-I) OS which may be the most innovative operating system available today.
MIUI is an iterative OS that pushes an update with new features and bug fixes to its users every week. The updates contain features that are requested by a rabid user base that frequents a set of user forum monitored by the MIUI development team. Suggestions are made by users and are voted up or down by other users in the forum and the best and most requested features are frequently trialed in the weekly updates.
Xiaomi was started by Lei Jun, a billionaire angel investor who first tried to implement his smartphone dream with OEMs like Nokia but found that none of them could bring them to reality. So he did what any self respecting entrepreneur would do, he started his own company and built them himself. Xiaomi operates very similarly to Apple in that designs, manufactures and sells the hardware direct to consumers (through an online portal) as well as controlling the software and ecosystem that run on its devices.
In 2010 Groupon was called the fastest growing company in history by Forbes with a growth in revenue from $30.47 million to $713.4 million in just its second full year of business. In its first full financial year, Xiaomi generated $2.1 billion in revenue and Lei Jun fully expects the company to generate $4.5 billion in revenue this year. Xiaomi is expanding beyond its traditional stronghold of China, Hong Kong and Taiwan with plans to bring the unique MIUI to the US and Europe.
Xiaomi’s prowess in the Chinese market cannot be underestimated, in April the company released the Xiaomi mi2S smartphone, a device that has a quad-core Snapdragon 600 processor, 2GB of RAM with a 720p display, essentially a Galaxy S4’s guts with the display of an S3 all costing less than $350 for the 16GB variant and less than $400 for the 32GB, the initial stock of 200 000 units was sold in a blistering 45 seconds.
We’ve already seen the massive uptake in both the Kindle Fire and Nexus 7 tablets in the US because of their ultra competitive pricing, could Xiaomi’s blend of rapid updates and low cost handsets be the magic formula that breaks the stranglehold that Samsung and Apple have on the smartphone industry? I’m of the opinion that they have more than a decent chance especially if they can get the pricing in foreign markets as competitive as they do in China.