It’s been another phenomenal year for smartphone developer Xiaomi, and their latest announcement is guaranteed to ensure a happy new year down at Xiaomi HQ. Following a recent round of funding, the Chinese firm can boast a valuation of $45 billion, thus making it the world’s most valuable technology based start-up.
Adding the recent cash injection of $1.1 billion (£708 million), Xiaomi’s worth has increased no less than four times over from the $10 billion valuation calculated at this time last year. It’s been another year of unprecedented success for the overseas giants, culminating in their leapfrogging of taxi booking app Uber in the start-up stakes.
Zero to $45 billion in four years
This latest boost to the smartphone company will act as the icing on the sweetest of 2014 cake. Never far from the tech headlines, Xiaomi’s shaking up of the mobile device market has seen them overtake traditional powerhouse Samsung in the Chinese market. In figures released in August, Xiaomi was confirmed as China’s largest mobile unit, shipping almost 15 million units in the three months of Q2.
Outselling established tech brand Samsung represented a landmark result for Xiaomi, who were elevated to the world’s fifth largest phone exporter on the back of the same results. Seen as Xiaomi shipped a grand total of 100,000 units outside of China, their reliance on a single, albeit lucrative, market has been questioned.
Xiaomi have looked to quell those doubts by rolling out their devices in other countries in Asia, as well as the mother of all markets, India. Much of their most recent financial backing (which included China’s richest man, Jack Ma) has been established on the back of Xiaomi one day expanding into a global powerhouse capable of taking down Apple in the West. However, attempts to establish a presence in the Indian market have backfired recently, with a breach of patent leading to them joining Uber in being banned throughout the country.
Swedish communications firm Ericsson lodged a complaint against the Chinese manufacturer, claiming Xiaomi’s handsets used patented technologies without permission. With an Indian court ruling Ericsson’s claims to be full proof, a ban was placed on their Indian distributor Flipkart, who are currently unable to trade Xiaomi phones in the country. Given the current depth of India’s market (it’s the world’s third largest in the mobile industry), Xiaomi will no doubt be eager to resolve the issue with Ericsson, with another hearing set for February.
Xiaomi Mi4 or Apple iPhone 5?
Shrewd Business or Sneaky Business?
Xiaomi’s provocative business model has drawn criticism from a number of angles over the year. Their ‘buy no patents and hope we get away with it’ approach has cut back costs significantly, allowing them to manufacture powerful devices at a budget price. Significant credit is due to the company which only launched back in 2010 though. By dealing almost exclusively in e-commerce, sticking to a market they know Apple are struggling to gain a foothold in, and selling their devices at a very low margin, Xiaomi ensure the consumer the best possible price, and cost their own costs in the process.
Their tendency to poach certain ideas from established mobile brands is just another way they maximise their profits. The aesthetics of their mobile devices have also landed them in hot water over the past twelve months. Back in October, Sir Jonathon Ive, Apple’s lead designer and thus a major part of the look of their devices, hit out at copycats of the ‘iPhone/Pad’ range of devices. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Ive said:
“All those weekends I could’ve been home with my family – I think it’s theft and lazy. I don’t think it’s OK at all.” When asked about Xiaomi’s actions.
Whist Ive resisted the temptation to point the finger directly at Xiaomi, glance over the design of their rivals products and you’d be hard pressed to differentiate the iPhone clone from the real thing. Indeed, many have been surprised by Apple’s laid back approach to Xiaomi’s shameless similarities. Given their previous reputation of firing law suits against mobile tech companies at will, the possibility of Xiaomi hearing from their solicitors does look increasingly likely in 2015.
Apple iPhone 5 or Xiaomi Mi4?
Up to now however, Apple have chosen to keep the lawyers at bay. With the West’s number one mobile manufacturer currently only a spec in Chinese market, they could do worse than to rock a boat they are looking to expand in. Throw in Xiaomi’s lack of enthusiasm for foraying into Western markets, and a court case seems unlikely for two companies not yet in direct competition.
Can I get a Xiaomi phone?
Xiaomi devices are not currently available on the UK high street. With few hints at expansion into the US and UK markets, the only way you could get your hands on a Xiaomi phone would be via import. However, their current flagship device, the Mi4, starts from as little as £279. Xiaomi are considerably undercutting their more premium priced rivals, making them a genuine option even in the UK market. Similarly, Xiaomi’s other ‘original’ devices, such as the Redmi ‘Note’ Redmi ‘1S’ and the Mi ‘Pad’ (yes, that is its actual name), are priced well below their respective competitors in the market.
Given the supremely reasonable price point, it’s little surprise to see Xiaomi’s rise from tech start-up to major mobile player has taken as little as four years. When, or rather if, we ever see a full rollout on our shores may hinge on how far the Xiaomi brand grows throughout the Far East and India.
What are your views on Xiaomi? Should action be taken against their copycat ways, or are they well within their rights to offer their tweaks to a proven model? Would you buy a Xiaomi phone, and are you hopeful of a UK launch?
Let us know, and check out out other coverage of Xiaomi’s rise to smartphone prominence.