SINGAPORE - At a press conference in Taiwan, Xiaomi's newly-minted VP Hugo Barra, previously head of Android product management at Google, said "I've been spending a lot of time with potential partners in other countries, in Southeast Asia primarily. We just came back from a trip to Singapore a few weeks ago, and we're trying to get our operations for Southeast Asia set up as quickly as possible."
Since then, Tech in Asia has clarified with Xiaomi and while nothing has yet been made official, the company's next overseas market will "most likely" be Southeast Asia, and its first stop will "most likely" be Singapore.
So who is Xiaomi and why should you care?
In a nutshell: High-powered Android smartphones at low cost.
Its latest flagship, the Mi3 packs an Nvidia Tegra 4 chip, a 13MP Sony camera and 2GB of RAM, the 16GB version sells for 1999 Chinese yuan (S$412), while the 64GB version sells for 2499 yuan. These are prices without contract, so if Xiaomi does secure a deal with local telcos they could be offered for less.
Xiaomi (which translates to "small rice") is a Chinese company founded in 2010. Android modders will probably know Xiaomi as the people behind MIUI, a custom Android build with a pretty UI. It sold 7 million handsets in 2012, and just as much in the first half of 2013. A report showed that Xiaomi's flagship Mi2S was the most popular phone sold in China in the first half of 2013, followed by Samsung's Galaxy S4 (but Xiaomi is still behind Samsung in overall market share). Earlier this year, Xiaomi briefly overtook the iPhone's marketshare in China, gaining 5% to Apple's 4.8%.
Xiaomi has been valued at US$10 billion (S$12.5 billion), and the company recently sold 100,000 of its flagship Mi3 smartphone in under 90 seconds, and 150,000 Mi3s in 10 minutes via a unique sale on chat app WeChat. Recently, it held its first overseas sale in Taiwan, and 10,000 of its lower-budget Hongmi smartphone sold in 10 minutes.
The company's strategy is to sell phones at little or no profit, in order to gain market share. Xiaomi then uses its smartphones as a platform to sell apps and content for revenue. That's why even though Xiaomi has been dubbed the "Apple of China", its CEO Lei Jun would rather think of it as the "Amazon of China" instead, which follows a similar strategy with its Kindle devices. Lei has stated that Xiaomi's three core businesses are actually e-commerce, deals with telcos, and the Internet services such as games.
In September, Hugo Barra, Google's then-VP in charge of Android product management, left Google to join Xiaomi as Vice President of Xiaomi Global, and is now responsible for bringing Xiaomi to the rest of the world. Currently, Xiaomi's smartphones are sold only in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, but come 2014 we might just see Singapore added to that list.
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