Liveblog: Xiaomi Explains Itself To Silicon Valley

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Hugo Barra

I’m at the W Hotel in San Francisco to hear Xiaomi President Lin Bin and VP Hugo Barra give their pitch to Silicon Valley.

We’ve been told we shouldn’t expect an announcement of the company bringing its products to the US, so the impression we’ve gotten is that this is about explaining what Xiaomi really does.

Why does it need to do that, you ask?

Well, most people see headlines describing the company as the “Apple of China” and see their phones and think, well they must be a premium phone maker. That’s mostly right — except when you compare their prices to Apple or Samsung’s premium models. Basically, they make devices people aspire in China or India can aspire to own and eventually obtain. Of course, as more people move into higher income tiers in those countries, there is a market for even higher-priced devices — hence the more expensive models Xiaomi debuted last month.

Along with not getting the actual segment Xiaomi is going for, most people in the Valley understand that Xiaomi wants to build services atop its devices, but probably couldn’t tell you what those services are. Xiaomi will likely clear up that confusion for Western techies during its presentation today.

Kyle Russell February 12, 201512:07 pm

Lin Bin and Hugo Barra just wrapped Q/A. Now we get to go play with devices.

Kyle Russell February 12, 201512:04 pm

No set time for US mi.com launch. Hugo Barra says it will happen when it’s ready.

Kyle Russell February 12, 201512:02 pm

Lin Bin continues to respond that it has to do with market size (aiming for low smartphone penetration with high growth), popularity of e-commerce.

Kyle Russell February 12, 201512:01 pm

Journalist after journalist asking slightly different variations of “are patents preventing you from launching phones in the United States?”

Kyle Russell February 12, 201511:57 am

Still, Xiaomi’s fitness trackers, power packs, headphones are all really nice for way less than what most US consumers are used to. Those products should do really well here.

Kyle Russell February 12, 201511:52 am

Hugo Barra just confirmed Xiaomi phones and tablets aren’t coming to the US later this year.

Kyle Russell February 12, 201511:50 am

In Q/A session, Lin Bin says “we never share info on our margins.”

Kyle Russell February 12, 201511:47 am

Sounds like everything but their phones/tablets might come here this year.

Kyle Russell February 12, 201511:46 am

Hugo Barra says Xiaomi is “thinking about” bringing Xiaomi’s e-commerce site, mi.com, to the US.

Kyle Russell February 12, 201511:45 am

Both Xiaomi appliances and third-party devices are managed from a single app in MIUI.
Kyle Russell February 12, 201511:42 am

Xiaomi now makes an air purifier. “I know the air is great here in Silicon Valley, but in China…” 

Kyle Russell February 12, 201511:40 am

Lin Bin says any company can pay for its ~$3 Mi Module to turn appliances into “smart” devices connected to their cloud.

Kyle Russell February 12, 201511:38 am

Now we’re talking about Xiaomi’s vision for the smart home.

Kyle Russell February 12, 201511:37 am

The Mi Note’s SIM tray holds two 4G cards, one micro and one nano.

Kyle Russell February 12, 201511:33 am

Hugo Barra is talking about the Mi Note. Every aspect is shown in comparison to the iPhone 6 Plus.

Kyle Russell February 12, 201511:27 am

MIUI is “easy to understand, but impossible to master” because there are so many hidden features. 

Kyle Russell February 12, 201511:24 am

There are more than 5,000 themes available for MIUI. Users have downloaded them more than 2 billion times. Doesn’t just add a skin on top of MIUI — themes can add games or apps to the lock screen, for example.

Kyle Russell February 12, 201511:21 am

Calling a delivery place? Their menu automatically shows up in MIUI’s phone app.

Kyle Russell February 12, 201511:18 am

MIUI has built-in features for getting train/movie tickets, hailing a ride, making bank/doctor appointments.

Kyle Russell February 12, 201511:17 am

MIUI users can label an incoming call as spam by tapping a button, if enough people do it all MIUI users will see the number as spam.

Kyle Russell February 12, 201511:15 am

Here’s everything Xiaomi users can sync between devices across the cloud.

Kyle Russell February 12, 201511:14 am

Now we’re actually talking about Internet services Xiaomi offers.

Kyle Russell February 12, 201511:12 am

Hugo Barra is showing how the MIUI interface’s animations have consistent physics — even rain in the weather app changes direction to still fall “down” when you hold the phone at different angles.

Kyle Russell February 12, 201511:09 am

MIUI’s music app is slick. Makes iTunes look overly busy.

Kyle Russell February 12, 201511:07 am

“This is another iPhone comparison.” Not a single comparison of features/UI to Google’s Android interface so far.

Kyle Russell February 12, 201511:04 am

The multitasking feature looks a lot like iOS. But there’s one difference that’s interesting for power users: you can swipe up to dismiss an app, or down to force MIUI to keep the app in memory so the OS won’t lose your place/data when it’s in the background.

Kyle Russell February 12, 201511:02 am

You can bulk delete apps from you home screen in MIUI.

Kyle Russell February 12, 201511:02 am

Hugo is comparing app management on the home screen between MIUI and iOS. When he has trouble moving between pages in iOS, he speculates about turning off the animation in a setting. “No, it looks like you have to live through it.”

Kyle Russell February 12, 201511:00 am

MIUI gives you the option to record a phone call starting at any point in a conversation.

Kyle Russell February 12, 201510:58 am

How Xiaomi built a version of Android for Chinese users: better support for Chinese names, a silent ring to avoid spam calls, canned messages frequently sent around holidays with automatic name entry (so you can send a bunch that seem personalized), and features for selfies.

Kyle Russell February 12, 201510:55 am

The evolution of MIUI.

Kyle Russell February 12, 201510:54 am

While MIUI comes with Xiaomi’s phones, it supports 347 models on 96 brands. “These are users who download our ROM and flash their own devices.”

Kyle Russell February 12, 201510:53 am

The 225th weekly update to MIUI drops tomorrow.

Kyle Russell February 12, 201510:52 am

Hugo Barra speaking now. He says MIUI is not a fork of Android, but a layer of software and services on top of it. 

Kyle Russell February 12, 201510:51 am

Xiaomi also employs 2,765 call center workers, with support available 24/7.

Kyle Russell February 12, 201510:49 am

Xiaomi’s shipping operation is ridiculous.

Kyle Russell February 12, 201510:46 am

… and all of these.

Kyle Russell February 12, 201510:46 am

On Tmall Single’s Day (November 11th), Xiaomi had monster sales last year. They sold 1.1 million phones…

Kyle Russell February 12, 201510:44 am

Here’s how Xiaomi’s phones have sold over the last few years.

Kyle Russell February 12, 201510:42 am

They’re playing a fan’s Chinese rap video about Xiaomi phones and the beat is kind of sick.

Kyle Russell February 12, 201510:41 am

They also do BuzzFeed-esque fan contests that draw really high engagement.

Kyle Russell February 12, 201510:39 am

Xiaomi isn’t averse to taking advantage of pop culture references for marketing. Executives took a picture mimicking a poster for a popular movie in China and it blew up on social media.

Kyle Russell February 12, 201510:37 am

On screen: “Creatives REALLY matter”

Kyle Russell February 12, 201510:36 am

Lin Bin takes time to detail which suppliers major parts came from for the Redmi 2.

Kyle Russell February 12, 201510:34 am

Lin Bin details Xiaomi’s history of being the first to use well-known mobile chipsets in China. “And we were close to being first to use the Snapdragon 810.” He sounds genuinely disappointed.

Kyle Russell February 12, 201510:30 am

Here’s the schedule Xiaomi engineers follow to maintain their weekly updates. This presentation is jumping around a lot.

Kyle Russell February 12, 201510:29 am

A recent forum thread discussing a Redmi 2 unboxing video has more than 2,000 comments. 

Kyle Russell February 12, 201510:26 am

There are 40 million active members on Xiaomi’s Mi Forum. 169,000 daily posts.

Kyle Russell February 12, 201510:25 am

Lin bin says Xiaomi has sent out 224 of its weekly updates to MIUI. 

Kyle Russell February 12, 201510:24 am

Going into Xiaomi’s MIUI layer on top of Android. Originally launched to ~100 users in August 2010, now has more than 100 million users.

Kyle Russell February 12, 201510:23 am

“We are an Internet company. We do more than make phones.”

Kyle Russell February 12, 201510:22 am

5 out of 8 of the most-activated Android phones in China are Xiaomi.

Kyle Russell February 12, 201510:21 am

#1 smartphone manufacturer in China according to IHS, #3 e-commerce company in the country.

Kyle Russell February 12, 201510:21 am

Jumped right into the business. In 2014, 61.1 million Xiaomi phones sold, 227% growth.

Kyle Russell February 12, 201510:20 am

Hugo Barra’s new Chinese name is “Tiger Brother.”

Kyle Russell February 12, 201510:18 am

Lin Bin just gave two-sentence bios for each of the company’s co-founders.

Kyle Russell February 12, 201510:17 am

Lin Bin talking about Xiaomi’s name. Translation is literally “little rice,” but “Mi” also stands for “mobile internet.”

Kyle Russell February 12, 201510:13 am

Lin Bin, Hugo Barra, the assistants helping with the presentation, and all of the gadgets they’re going to show us later fit in one corner of the room.

Kyle Russell February 12, 201510:11 am

We all just filed in. This room isn’t as big as I expected.

Kyle Russell February 12, 201510:08 am

Lots of familiar tech bloggers at the W this morning. Xiaomi’s doing a big media push.

Featured Image: WANG ZHAO/Getty Images