Ben Thompson got a very well-written, well-researched article up at Stratechery, talking about the ambition of Chinese phone maker Xiaomi and its challenges, as well as explaining the misconception and some amount of culture shock surrounding the company’s behavior when viewed by its western brethren.
I figure this is an interesting enough article to just put up here as a link, but i decided i have some points to add, considering that i sold my iPhone 5 3 months ago and bought a Xiaomi Redmi 1S (and made a tidy profit as well by doing so).
It’s well worth remembering that i’m far from a qualified pundit like Thompson, but more like an Apple fanboy who decided to dump the iPhone for Xiaomi’s low to mid-end product offering. Also, considering that i’m from the 3rd target country of Xiaomi (Indonesia) Thompson mentioned, and my age group belongs to the 25-34 range that from the data in that article are the majority of Xiaomi’s userbase, my opinion to the product’s value and attractiveness might be somewhat helpful to western reader.
My Reason for Selling the iPhone and Buying the Redmi 1s
It is a somewhat odd beginning, but my journey to buying the Redmi begins when my friend, who for some years have been an android fanboy come knocking on my door. He’s holding a phone that i thought seem familiar. I think i’ve read about the Redmi 1s on some android blog somewhere, and so i asked him. He said it’s the Redmi 1s. He sold his Nexus 4, a phone that is made by LG, a more popular and relatively more trustworthy brand than an obviously Chinese name like Xiaomi (i have no grudge against chinese brand, but common belief dictates that a chinese name doesn’t associates with great quality hardware). I hold the phone, and although it’s obvious that it’s a low to mid range product, with full plastic case, it’s truly well made. It has no flex, and the operating system runs smoothly. Seems fine, i thought. But what intrigues me is the fact that the phone at that point sold for 150 (in us dollars).
I bought the iPhone in full price without subsidy. Easily 4 to 5 times that price. The display is obviously larger than the iPhone 5 i’m using at that point, and it has a weaker camera, but seeing as i used my phone most often for reading, my consideration for a good phone is always the display, full stop. I just need a phone that i can use for reading and watching youtube and texting, so the proposition of plastic body doesn’t matter to me much. I appreciate good design, and the iPhone definitely has better hardware design, but at that point the phone is running iOS 7. And that, i can live without.
About a couple weeks after that, i thought, why not. After some research, i found that there’s a serious hype surrounding Xiaomi. If you live in the US or where Xiaomi is not yet a household brand, and curious to know what kind of hype is surrounding Xiaomi in Southeast Asia, i will explain it to you this way. People have to signed up for a waiting list to purchase the phone. Or, wait for a flash sale, where you can buy the phone if you’re fast enough. One of the biggest e-commerce website in the country, Lazada, put up a page where you will know when another flash sale is coming, and the phone usually sold out in hours, even minutes.
Why, did people seem so excited about a phone from a brand they didn’t really know about? Even i’m not so sure. But reviews speaks for itself. The company’s hardware & software approach that seem to come straight from Cupertino in a black bag, carried by someone wearing Mcdonald’s Hamburglar costume is working, and it’s working really well. When i finally pulled the plug on my iPhone, put it in the box and sell it to an unofficial importer (so i can avoid the wait list), i got handed the surplus money and a singapore version of the phone that they only have a couple left on stock.
I open the phone, set it up, and it’s just works. I am now holding a phone that when i go somewhere, people ask is that the Redmi 1S? Mind, of course, that people who knows about the existence of the brand are usually people in my age group or younger, so there’s definitely truth to Thompson’s assertion that people who trust the Xiaomi brand are people who in their lifetime associates China to a big powerful country, and not the 3rd world communist state who makes cheap products that most older folks seem to associate it with.
So to conclude. What’s the reason for me purchasing the phone and selling the iPhone? One, it’s cheap. Very low barrier to entry. Two, the brand got a lot of hype so early adopters and young people like me are naturally curious. Three, it’s not running iOS 7. I know it’s not exactly a powerful or maybe interesting enough reason, but i digress. Most teenagers and early adopters are naturally curious and doesn’t have so much brand-paganism in their mind, so if they just bought the phone for whatever reason and find the phone is working well, AND, it’s cheap, they will probably just stick with it.
You claim you’re an Apple Fanboy but you clearly decides willy-nilly to dump the iPhone for cheap junk
This section is aimed at people who’ll probably be confused and mad that i claim to be apple fanboy but clearly doesn’t love it enough to consider the iPhone a hugely better product compared to the Redmi 1S. “I mean the Redmi 1S! Not even the Mi3, or the Mi4!”, they’ll probably said.
Yes, it’s true. I’m stupid. But i have used the iPhone 5 for a couple of years, and while the 5S and the 6 & 6S is clearly a really, really, really great product, one fact that you can’t deny is they are expensive. Remember that there’s no subsidy towards the purchase of a smartphone in my place of living, and so the iPhones are as expensive as a brand new motorcycle people usually use to avoid traffic jam and commute to their workplace. It’s expensive enough to make you say, why, and usually when you start to ask why, that’s when your claim to fanboyship are revoked. Unfortunately, i am one of those people. I still love Apple, still use my iPad mini & Macbook Pro daily, and i love them to death. Love them enough that i decided to start another apple blog (imagine that) late last year. But when i ask why, here’s what i found.
- MIUI and Vanilla android is equal enough and in some areas even better than current iteration of iOS
- Hardware-wise, the Redmi 1S and my iPhone 5 is equal. I’m not saying the design, i’m saying spec-wise and how it runs apps
- I’m not going to be branded as a cheapskate when i run around holding the Redmi. Again, the curious thing about the brand is it’s not associated with cheap quality hardware
- It’s more reasonable in price.
To be honest, the seconds after i sold my iPhone 5, i started feeling sad, and thinking i might regret the decision. But a couple of days later, i found i didn’t miss anything much after losing the iPhone 5.
So with all that being said, i wanted to re-iterate the fact that if you think Xiaomi’s brand proposition is in the fact that they’re cheap, you’re probably wrong, or at least not entirely correct. Yes, that’s one of the reason why i stick with my Xiaomi and starting to love the brand, but that’s the last point in my reasoning. Fact is, they build well-made products, and while the early hype surrounding the brand might be more related to early adopters curiosity & their price proposition, the fact that their products are affordable AND good quality, is what makes them trully interesting. If, they are successful at maintaining this two quality of their brand, i can truly see the reality of Xiaomi’s ambition mentioned in Thompson’s article. That’s a reality where there there is a full line up of Xiaomi’s electronic products, and people are buying it because it looks and handles like an Apple product while being cheaper. I mean, if Toyota can start making their car by reverse engineering GM & Ford cars, and became where they are today, i don’t see why Xiaomi can pull it off, probably even in a shorter period of time than what it took Toyota to pull it off.