SINGAPORE - Xiaomi may be little known outside China, but the fast-growing smartphone maker is at the forefront of a new wave of Asian brands challenging the dominance of Apple and Samsung with high-spec, low-price phones.
In the three months to March, Xiaomi surpassed Apple and other established Asian players such as Huawei and Sony to become the third largest smartphone brand in China by market share, research firm Counterpoint Technology said.
Samsung holds the top spot at 18 per cent, followed by homegrown Lenovo with 12 per cent.
The Beijing-based tech upstart sold 18.7 million phones in 2013, and is targeting sales of 60 million this year and 100 million in 2015.
Using a high-tech but low-cost sales model, Xiaomi aims to tap into a vast market of budget-conscious young Asians who want the newest in smartphone technology.
Technology research firm IDC said in a February report that cheap smartphones would be a key driver of sales in the low-cost segment of emerging markets outside China.
Handsets selling for less than US$100 accounted for nearly half of mobile sales worldwide, with two-thirds of those priced under US$50, its research shows.
"Asian markets have burgeoning young populations who want the latest smartphone technology, but (they have) restrictive budgetary constraints," Mykola Golovko, senior consumer electronics analyst at research firm Euromonitor International, told AFP.
Euromonitor data in 2013 showed that this key market of 15-34-year-olds made up between 25 per cent and 40 per cent of the population in countries such as Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia and China.
Unlike its giant rivals, Xiaomi has minimal advertising and no retail outlets which help keep costs down.
Instead, it has gathered a cult-like following on social media, including China's Weibo.