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Get ready for more ‘Mi’ as Xiaomi plans big shift for India this year


Written by Shruti Dhapola
| New Delhi |

Published: January 15, 2020 8:30:05 pm

In China, Xiaomi’s Mi brand underlines its flagship phones and high-end TVs, and more of these will make their way to India this year. (Image source: Bloomberg)

Xiaomi’s Mi brand will make a ‘comeback’ this year in India with plans to introduce more premium phones and other devices under the label. Of course, the Mi already has a presence in India, thanks to the plenty of Mi-branded products available, from Mi TVs to Mi Band. But Mi flagship phones have been conspicuously missing in India, and that looks set to change in a big way.

“Going forward in 2020, we believe that from a demand standpoint and from an organisation standpoint, we will push more from the Mi sub-brand,” Raghu Reddy, Head of Categories at Xiaomi India told select media at a briefing in Delhi, adding that the focus won’t be on just premium phones under Mi, but also on more premium Mi TVs and products in newer categories under the brand.

Xiaomi India will reorganise teams in a way that Mi will get its dedicated set of resources, while a dedicated team will continue to look after Redmi. In China, both Redmi and Mi are already operating as two separate brands, and the strategy looks all set to be replicated in India.

More Mi Premium phones

Mi-branded phones are Xiaomi’s flagship phones with a more premium design and high-end specifications. While Redmi phones have seen an aggressive sales push with new devices nearly every six months, the company has not been proactive in pushing its Mi phones in India.

The last flagship Mi phone that came to India was the Mi MIX 2 back in 2017. Before that the company had introduced its flagship Mi 5 in the Indian market, but it was not the commercial success that the company would have hoped for. Since then, the Mi 6, Mi 7, and subsequent Mi flagship phones have been absent from India. The only ‘Mi’ phone has been under the Mi A series, which puts focus on stock Android and is not part of the flagship lineup.

“In 2020, Mi will try and start a brand new chapter. These efforts will be separate from Redmi. After all, the marketing for the Rs 6000 device will be very different from the one for a Rs 40,000 device. The approach will be different, both from a marketing and product perspective” Reddy said.

Mi MIX Alpha, which sports a flexible OLED display with a 4D screen that runs all the way to the back. (Image source: Shruti Dhapola/Indian Express)

And unlike Redmi phones, which are upgraded every six months, Mi has a more staggered approach with two major launches each year. The Mi numbered series, which will be the Mi 10 this year, launches in February ahead of MWC. The Mi MIX is the second big upgrade, which takes place somewhere mid-year.

Other than that Xiaomi also has phones in the Mi CC9 or Mi Note series. Mi is also the brand under which Xiaomi has shown the more innovative phones like the Mi MIX Alpha, which sports has a flexible OLED 4D display that runs all the way to the back.

For now, Xiaomi has already put out teasers for its upcoming Mi-branded phone in India, which sports a 108MP camera at the back and is expected soon. This is widely believed to be the Mi Note 10, which was launched in Europe last year.

Raghu Reddy, head of Xiaomi’s categories. (Image source: Xiaomi)

Not about volumes

So why the shift in strategy, especially given Redmi will still drive the bulk of volumes? According to Xiaomi, the reason is the changing nature of the Indian smartphone market and their own offline growth.

In 2017, Xiaomi chose to focus on the 6k to 25k segment, given it accounted for a majority of the market, close to 90 per cent. But since then, the average selling prices (ASPs) of the smartphones have started to rise in India, and it is hoping to make some gains here.

This was also one reason why the Redmi K20 launched last year, and the Redmi K20 Pro was the most expensive phone in the brand at nearly Rs 30,000.

“The reason why we are considering Mi Premium flagships right now is because the market size is attractive enough for us to put in resources. We see people using their fourth, fifth, sixth smartphone and wanting to upgrade. There’s an increased demand in the market for devices in Rs 20-25,000 and above,” Reddy explained. This user, who is willing to upgrade is the one Xiaomi is hoping to tap.

Xiaomi’s growing offline presence is another reason. When it started in India back in 2014, this was primarily an online company, driven by flash sales. But now it has Mi Stores in rural areas, and more than 75 exclusive Mi Home premium stores in the top 10 Indian cities. The company now has more than 50,000 employees across manufacturing, retail, service centres, etc.

The big factor though is the countrywide distribution network, which also gives the company more confidence when it comes to pushing the Mi branded phones. Reddy admits that offline can help reach out to many more customers, and the touch and feel aspect available in these stores, where consumers will be able to experience the more ‘premium’ phone will definitely be an advantage.

Is the Redmi K20 a better buy than the Realme X2? Here’s what we thought 

Still, Xiaomi knows that gains in the premium segment won’t result in an overall boost to its overall numbers. At best, this could add a one or two per cent growth to its existing share, which is close to 30 per cent right now in the market. But more importantly, the success of Mi could be a chance to finally prove that it can sell its more expensive phones, an area where it has struggled so far. In contrast, OnePlus has managed to carve a niche for itself in the premium category, taking on giants like Samsung and Apple in India.

Xiaomi’s Mi NoteBook in the 15.6-inch screen variant with the older Intel 8th gen processor.

Laptops and TVs and more

Reddy was also keen to press that the focus won’t just on Mi phones, but other ‘Mi-branded’ products. The domain will likely include laptops and more expensive Mi TVs. So far, Xiaomi has restricted itself to the LED and affordable 4K segment in India, but that will change and new categories will be explored.

“In TVs right now, we play in the LED segment, and with the 4K segment. But we will go beyond what you’ve traditionally seen Xiaomi do in the Indian market. Even with ecosystem products we’ve just taken baby steps.” Reddy said. The idea is to bring smart home devices, which are used multiple times a day.

Wondering if the 50-inch 4K TV from Mi is worth the price? Read our review for the Mi TV 4X

In China, Xiaomi has a whole range of products, from washing machines to Mi laptops to more expensive Mi TVs. On laptops, Reddy said that they were one of the most requested from its fan base in India, and they would not want to ignore this demand anymore, though he did not say when such products could come to the market. Incidentally, leaks also claim that the Redmibook laptops could be making their way to India soon as well. Regarding the newly launched Mi Watch, it looks like that device is only for China right now.

Slow-down in China

In 2020, Xiaomi will hoping to make more gains on its India success story, where it is facing increasing competition from the newer player Realme. Globally too, Xiaomi’s smartphone business has seen a dip.

In the third quarter of 2019, Xiaomi sold around 32.1 million phones (globally), and revenues in the smartphone business fell by 8 per cent. The 32.1 million was roughly one million units fewer than a year earlier for the same period. Numbers from data firm IDC showed that Xiaomi’s shipments in its home market of China were 9.7 million in the quarter, a nearly 30 per cent decrease from the previous year.

Xiaomi’s Chief Financial Officer Chew Shou Zi admitted on the earnings call that China market has declined and that they too have seen some pressure. But he was more confident that with 5G coming soon, they will “see improvement in the smartphone market quite significantly.”

Except in India, this 5G era won’t be making its way at least for the next two years, given the auctions have not even started. And 5G chipsets will mean the price for premium phones will go up significantly across brands. That’s not lost upon Xiaomi executives. “5G chipsets are going to be way more expensive. We’re not sure if customers are willing to pay a lot of premium of it. I’m guessing it’s gonna be the case for everyone (brands), and the prices will go up,” Reddy said.

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Updated: January 15, 2020 — 3:05 pm

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