The Chinese are certainly smartphone-crazy, an addiction that turned the country into the largest mobile market practically overnight. Xiaomi, often called "the Apple of China," is one of the standout local smartphone makers that has risen fast, thanks to its beloved high-end, low-price devices.
But tablets haven't quite taken off in China yet. Apple led the market with a 28 percent share during the second quarter last year by selling just 1.48 million units, according to research firm IDC. That represented about 10 percent of all of Apple's iPad sales during the period, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Xiaomi, which unveiled its first tablet in Beijing yesterday, may be jumping in at just the right time. Jenny Lee, an early investor in Xiaomi and a Shanghai-based managing director at GGV Capital, says Chinese are starting to adopt tablets over PCs, particularly in offices. Xiaomi will have to chase Apple and Samsung, the market leaders in tablets globally and in China. That's a race Xiaomi is all-too-familiar with.
The Beijing-based startup has built itself into a real challenger to Apple in China over the course of just four years since it was founded. At the end of last year, the two companies were neck and neck for fifth place in the country, which Apple has long considered to be a crucial market for its business. (In January, Apple started offering the iPhone on China Mobile, the nation's largest carrier, which surely helped to boost that quarter's sales.)
Samsung Electronics has the lead position locked up with its portfolio of smartphones that range from cheap to premium, with the Galaxy S5. There's no shortage of faceless Chinese brands that are also vying for the local budget consumer. That group is led by Lenovo, Coolpad and Huawei. As they jockey, Xiaomi is creeping up from behind.
While Xiaomi has global ambitions, its success at home hasn't translated to other markets yet. About 97 percent of Xiaomi's smartphones have been sold in China. Hugo Barra, a vice president at Xiaomi responsible for international expansion, told Bloomberg TV that the new Mi Pad tablets will be available in China starting next month, and will eventually be offered in other markets, including Southeast Asia, India and Latin America. The U.S., Barra said, is extremely competitive and not in the company's plans for this year.
That's OK because Xiaomi has become a top-10 smartphone brand built almost entirely on China alone. By the end of March, the company knocked BlackBerry out of the No. 10 spot by capturing 3.5 percent of global smartphone shipments, according to IDC data.
The Mi Pad follows the same set of principles that made the Mi phone a hit. It runs Android and packs a pair of super-sharp cameras, a sizable battery, fast processor and a high-resolution 7.9-inch screen. The entry-level Mi Pad will sell for 1,499 yuan ($240), significantly undercutting the 2,888 yuan price tag for a comparable iPad mini.
If Xiaomi can repeat its smartphone success in tablets — even just in China — the world may start calling Apple "the Xiaomi of America."