The smartphone business is notorious for eating companies alive. Even giants of industry have fallen: Sony is on the cusp of throwing in the towel on its phone division, Nokia is now out of the game entirely after having been the largest manufacturer of phones in the world as recently as 2011, and even smartphone-centric companies like HTC are struggling. Yet somehow, there are a few upstarts that are navigating these treacherous, Samsung- and Apple-infested waters — sometimes with enormous success.
Somewhere in this technological New Wave lies Xiaomi, a Chinese firm founded in 2010 that has become impossible to ignore. That’s driven partly by its unapologetic Apple mimicry: its marketing, product strategy, and design aesthetic all borrow elements from Cupertino’s playbook. It’s also driven partly by the high-profile hiring of former Android boss Hugo Barra from Google. But increasingly, it’s driven simply by the fact that Xiaomi is making genuinely interesting products. And at a valuation north of $40 billion, it’s apparently doing something right.
Xiaomi must think so too, because it has just embarked on a US media tour handing out the Mi Note, the company’s 2015 flagship, a phone that isn’t even intended for US sale. Specifically seeking out grizzled US tech journalists to check out your phone — journalists who grind through pitch-perfect iPhones, Galaxy Notes, and HTC Ones all year — shows a certain level of bravado.