Xiaomi, “The Real Fake” Apple

The New York Times’ Sue-Lin Wong profiles Chinese cell phone manufacturer Xiaomi and its flamboyant founder Lei Jun.

Less than three years since it was founded, Xiaomi, meaning “little rice,” has become a rising star in the Chinese smartphone market. The company predicts that by the end of 2012, sales will reach nearly seven million phones and revenue will be at 10 billion renminbi — impressive for a company that sold its first smartphone in August 2011.

The scene at a Xiaomi event in August of this year was reminiscent of Apple’s typical product introduction under Mr. Jobs, who died last October. Mr. Lei strode onto a stage in the trendy 798 art district in Beijing to show off the Mi-Two to a roomful of cheering fans. He was dressed in a black polo shirt, jeans and black converse shoes, not much different from Mr. Jobs’s trademark outfit.

Xiaomi’s marketing strategy has been to ride on the back of the “cult of Apple” and of its creator, said Wei Wuhui, a technology industry expert at Shanghai Jiaotong University.

[…] “Xiaomi is the real fake,” Oliver Jin, a university student in Shanghai who hopes to buy a Xiaomi, said approvingly.

See Tech in Asia’s coverage of the August event.

Lei—or ‘Leibusi’, a play on Jobs’ Chinese name ‘Qiaobusi’—has said that he was originally “very annoyed” by comparisons with the Apple founder but seems, to say the least, to have come to terms with them. In 2011, he lamented that no one else in the industry would be able to emerge from Jobs’ shadow while he was still alive. From Charles Custer’s translation at Tech in Asia:

I believe Jobs is one of the great men of this age. He’s a Hollywood blockbuster. […] But Jobs will die someday, so there are still opportunities for us. The meaning of our existence is just waiting for him to kick the bucket. Of course, on the one hand, we wish him a long life, but on the other hand, we don’t want the world to be blinded by his light; we’d rather live in a more colorful world.

See more on Lei Jun at CDT.


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