By Mayukh Bhadra
Edited by Nidhi Singh, Junior Editor, The Indian Economist
The Indian smartphone market has seen it all over the last few years. It can be best described as dynamic and bullishly expansionary. According to research firm, IDC, India witnessed the highest rate of growth of over 186 per cent in smart phone sales in the Asia-Pacific region during January-March 2014, outshining countries like China. All of this only spells good times for the millions of smartphone users in India, as more and more smartphone makers from several international markets enter our multi-billion dollar market to vie for their share. The last year has seen a mass influx of foreign brands which has made the market even more fiercely competitive. Leading giants Samsung, got a rude awakening to the potency of this threat in emerging markets like that of India when its global market share for the second quarter took a hit. What has been a hallmark of this wave of new competition in the Indian market is the massive inflow of Chinese brands in particular. About a dozen Chinese handset brands like Gionee, Lenovo, OPPO and Huawei have made inroads. However, the most recent and largely anticipated entry into the smartphone arena has been that of the brand dubbed ‘The Apple of China’ – Xiaomi (pronounced Shiao-Mee). Xiaomi has taken the smartphone market in India by storm with the much awaited release of it’s flagship model the MI3, which released exclusively on Flipkart this last month.
Xiaomi (Chinese : which literally translates to ‘little rice’) is a Chinese company based in Beijing. Co-founded in 2010, the company has been a thorn in the flesh of worldwide phone giants like Samsung and especially Apple giving both a good run for their money. The name ‘Apple of China’ which has now commonly stuck to the brand has an interesting background to it. Along with the fact that a lot of it’s products closely resemble those made by Apple, their user interface (MUI) used on the flagship MI3, has very much got the touch and feel of the Apple IOS. What’s more interesting is that their chairman and CEO, Lei Jun, dresses exactly like Steve Jobs did in his trademark jeans and dark shirts and uses the same model as Jobs did for his product announcements (riding on the Apple cult much?). The New York Times has even gone as far as to call him a Steve Jobs ‘knockoff’. Coupled together these two facts have led to widespread opinions of Xiaomi being a counterfeit version of the Apple brand. Despite this Xiaomi has managed to thrive, at first in the Chinese market and now in emerging markets like India. Xiaomi, espouses that it reserves its own identity as a brand as it has its own and is constantly aiming and delivering to achieve its vision of being a company known for it’s innovative nature rather than comparisons to Apple.
Like the Moto G, Xiaomi introduced the MI3 to the Indian market exclusively through online retailers Flipkart on the 22nd July. Priced at a modest 13,999 the phone instantly grabbed eyeballs with it’s specifications which easily place it in the bracket of phones like the Nexus 5 and Xperia Z which cost well over double the amount. There was no advertising campaign run before it’s release with most of the hype being carried around by tech geeks and those who were aware of it’s rampant success in markets like China and Singapore. Only pre-registered users had the option of buying the phone but this didn’t really help the excess demand much as the stocks ran out in 39 minutes with the site hanging for a lot of users. By the time the first lot was sold, the hype had grown exponentially with the MI3 garnering rave reviews from all the pundits and tech gurus. This only meant an upward surge in the pre-registrations for the second lot of sales which were held on the 29th of July. This ‘flash sale’ took the hype of the new entrant to the next level with stocks running out in a mindboggling five seconds. Yes. Five seconds. While Xiaomi didn’t officially release information as to how many pieces were sold, there were several reports suggesting that the number was around 10,000 and that this number was kept low in order to keep alive the hype surrounding the product. Irrespective of whether it was an intended strategy or not, the result has been phenomenal, with the phone getting heaped with praise from all quarters for it’s quality and disbelief for it’s pricing. The Mi3 boasts of a Snapdragon 800 Quad-core 2.3 GHz processor along with 2GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage, a 3050mAh battery, NFC, WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0. The screen is a 5-inch full HD (1080*1920pixel) IPS panel with Gorilla Glass. The back camera is a 13 megapixel Exmor unit with a dual-LED flash. The 2 megapixel front camera comes with an automatic filter for blemishes which is unique. The MI3 runs the Android KitKat 4.4.2 software with it’s own MIUI interface, which as mentioned before closely resembles the Apple IOS. Add to this the fact that it has a sturdy alloy frame unlike the plastic frames of other smartphones like the Nexus and you have an outrageously powerful model with a jaw-dropping price tag.
Having spoken of the MI3’s incredible specifications, price and the hype surrounding it one needs to note that Xiaomi looks all set to be a winner because of its sound strategy and approach to its, now overwhelming, entry. Xiaomi has identified that Indian users do judge a brand on the basis of post sales service, which is why unlike other brands like Motorola, they have already ensured 36 service centres across India for post sales back-up. Unlike brands like Samsung and Apple, Xiaomi can afford to offer its products at such low prices because it sells them at cost price, generating profits over long periods due to falling component prices. Xiaomi has metamorphosed from a pretender to a contender on the global scene with its smart moves. It signalled its intention to usher in this change when in September 2013, Hugo Barra, technology expert and entrepreneur and one of the driving forces in Google, was hired as Vice President of International. Since then there has been no turning back as they have overtaken Apple in China and have built a huge reputation in the Asia-Paciic market with stocks flying off in seconds in markets. They sent out the right statements by hiring the right personnel. Case in point being, Jabong.com Co-founder Manu Jain being hired by them to head their India operations. Xiaomi is a potent threat to all the players in the market as of now as it looks set to leapfrog all the brands ahead of it. Motorola which gained a lot of market traction this past year, has responded quickly to Xiaomi’s exploits by cutting prices by Rs. 2,000 for both the 8 and 16 GB variants of its successful model Moto G which the MI3 directly targets by virtue of being in the same price range and offering far superior specifications. Will the Xiaomi’s present hype fizzle out? Will the bigger players manage to boot them out by innovating their strategies? Is Xiaomi playing a risky game by not providing adequate stocks? Only time will answer these questions and tell us whether Xiaomi is here to stay. Till then India’s billions can rejoice in the revolution that this market is seeing and the mixture of good quality and low prices that it is bringing along with it.
Mayukh is a third-year student of St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata. Currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Economics, Mayukh is someone who believes, that learning extends to exploring a plethora of interests which are mostly found outside prescribed curriculums. He enjoys all forms of public speaking and has represented his school and college successfully at several national level debates. His passions include food, football ( a self-proclaimed die-hard Manchester United fan ), economics, social policy and anything that involves debate and argument.