After a near three-year long hiatus, Xiaomi is finally ready to bring its Mi-branded premium flagship phones to India this year. The last Mi-branded premium flagship to launch in India was the rather unconventional Mi Mix 2 (2017), while the last conventional product under the branding was the Mi 5 (2016). Not that it’s a surprise or anything. Xiaomi has been teasing the Mi Note 10 India launch for some time now, so we knew that’s coming. What’s news is, the Mi Note 10 won’t just be a one-off thing from Xiaomi.
Xiaomi is sort of revamping the whole Mi brand for India in 2020. This obviously means that we can expect more smart TVs and IoT devices from the company this year – and hopefully, new categories. But while Mi-branded smart TVs and IoT devices have been around for some time now – and doing well, to say the least – it’s the return of the Mi-branded premium flagship phone that is particularly interesting.
In order to understand this, you’ll have to go back in history, which considering we’re dealing with Xiaomi here, isn’t too long ago. The Mi 5 was Xiaomi’s last ‘proper’ Mi flagship phone to launch in India. It did not do very well due to several reasons -
The failure of the Mi 5 forced Xiaomi to rethink its whole India strategy vis-a-vis flagship phones. The Mi 6 was the first casualty. But then Xiaomi India pulled a total anti-Xiaomi by launching the Mi Mix 2 in the country. While way ahead of its time, the Mi Mix 2 was also a niche product – at a time when Xiaomi was launching every product here with the sole purpose of becoming a hit, in other words, drive volumes. The Mi Mix 2 was the last of its kind product in India.
“When we say that we’re going to focus on the Mi lineup, we mean, we would want to bring devices that help us drive volumes in the categories that we’re present in,” Raghu Reddy, who heads Xiaomi India’s categories tells me.
Strangely, he’s also showing off the Mi Mix Alpha to select media in the National Capital. While Xiaomi is still ‘evaluating’ whether or not to bring this 'concept' phone to India, one can’t help but notice, it's also a very niche product. Like the Mi Mix 2 was, once upon a time. Raghu clears the air. “You’ll definitely see more action (from us) in devices that are relatively more accessible than concepts like the Mi Mix Alpha. We’re looking at a bunch of premium flagship phones.”
In essence, while Xiaomi isn’t shy of showing off – or even launching – a product like the Mi Mix Alpha, the company is in a much better shape now to do that, and, also bring in a slew of other devices to India that will, in fact, make ‘actual’ money for it.
“I think a lot of times in the past, due to lack of resources, we couldn’t do everything. But we’ve come a long way. We’ve been running a very stable business on the Redmi side over the last couple of years, and there is confidence. We’ve also beefed up our entire team and bandwidth across multiple points to ensure teams can do justice (to their roles). There’s also bandwidth that’s free to do some of the other stuff,” Raghu explains.
‘Premium’ Mi flagships are coming which means there’s hope for phones like the Mi 8 and Mi 9 – or the Mi 10? - to launch in India. Note the special emphasis on the word premium. Because premium does not mean only high-end specs and slick design in Xiaomi-verse. It also means, these phones may not show ads, unlike some of the new-age Redmi phones (excluding the Redmi K20/Redmi K20 Pro).
You can say that India was caught unaware when Xiaomi started serving ads in MIUI one fine day two years ago, out of the blue – with no prior intimation. To this day, Xiaomi continues to serve ads in MIUI, in India. The move has – for obvious reasons - not gone down well with users. Although there’s the option to limit ads in MIUI, there’s no full-proof mechanism to stop them altogether. Not to mention, limiting them by selective tweaks in the UI isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
“If we are calling it a premium flagship, we would want to give a premium customer experience as well. We’ll try to adhere to what customers like. I can’t talk about specific products but if it’s a premium smartphone and we’re calling it a premium smartphone, and you’ve heard what we’ve done with the K20 and K20 Pro, there’s no reason why we would go against the wishes of our customers,” Raghu says. Your guess is as good as mine here, but I believe he’s hinting no ads, at least, in the ‘premium’ phones.
Smartphones won’t be the only category that will see a revamp this year. More Mi-branded products are coming to India. A fan favorite has been laptops. Xiaomi has already registered the ‘RedmiBook’ trademark with the Intellectual Property India hinting at an imminent launch. But remember, Xiaomi has never come out and said that it’s planning to bring laptops to India – Redmi or otherwise.
“There were three different occasions when Xiaomi India had pitched for bringing smart TVs to India. It got shot down due to multiple reasons. The biggest reason has always been our focus on doing one thing correctly, getting a handle over it, learning from our mistakes, being steady and then moving on to the next (step). Our phone business stabilised in a big way in 2016-17 and post that we took the call to get to TVs. Now that our TV business has stabilised, we have confidence to move to the next big thing,” Raghu says.
But what is that next big thing, I ask.
“If Manu were to put any post, which product we should bring to India (before the TV launch), it was always TVs first, followed by laptops. Post that, it has been laptops, but since the time we launched the Mi Watch, people have been wanting us to bring that to India.”
The Mi Watch is exclusive to China for now and is apparently not eady for India or any of the global markets. But what about laptops?
“We do know that laptops are up there as the most requested product in the list, and we’re aware of that. We would be stupid not to be listening to that,” Raghu quips. Again, your guess is as good as mine, but I believe, there’s hope.
Xiaomi made its India debut in 2014 as an online-only brand with only four team members including the company’s (now) India head, Manu Kumar Jain. Five years hence, Xiaomi can boast of 50,000+ team members across offices, manufacturing plants, service centers and Mi stores. Clearly, Xiaomi has come a long way. A lot of its success can be attributed to its focus, which is “to create high quality products and offer them at prices that allowed us to bring our innovation to everyone.” So far, Xiaomi hasn’t budged from that goal, nor does it intend to. Mi was how it really began. It was only about time that it got its due.
(Image credit: Saurabh Singh)