Xiaomi is copying its China playbook to win over India’s smartphone market

Will it work?
Will it work?
Image: Reuters/Anindito Mukherjee
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Ten months after its arrival in India, Xiaomi—the world’s most valuable startup and China’s largest smartphone manufacturer—is upping its game with a redesigned version of its flagship Mi 4i phone that has been tweaked to fit the needs of its second-largest market.

“We have big plans for India,” Hugo Barra, Xiaomi’s vice president for global operations, said at a glitzy launch event. “We are here to build an Indian company.”

Developed in a little over 18 months, the Mi 4i—with a relatively affordable price tag of Rs12,000 ($205)—is Xiaomi’s attempt to make deeper inroads into India, the world’s fastest growing smartphone market.

“In India, you need the largest possible battery,” Barra said. The Mi 4i has been designed to last for more than a day and a half, with a new processor designed in India by Qualcomm.

The Chinese firm had already worked its way to the fifth spot in the Indian smartphone market, with a 4% market share during the October-December quarter. South Korea’s Samsung is still the market leader, followed closely by India’s own Micromax.

Creating a cult 

Part of Xiaomi’s playbook is to build a cult following, even though its phones have mass-market reach in China and beyond. The Mi 4i launch took place before a raucous crowd of 1,500 Xiomi fans at Delhi’s Siri Fort auditorium, where US president Barack Obama delivered a speech in January. They were the lucky ones who got a ticket of the more than 12,000 fans who registered for the event, according to a Xiaomi spokesperson.

The fans, sporting orange Xiaomi t-shirts, waited for almost three hours in the scorching sun. They included doctors, engineers, and business professionals.

“Looking at these orange t-shirts that you are all wearing, I get this warm fuzzy feeling that you are kind of saying ‘I love you’,” Barra told the crowd. “And I love you, too.”

The affection, it seemed, was mutual.

“I only have duty at night, and so I came here. But I had to wait for about three hours,” Amit Sharma, a doctor at a Delhi hospital told Quartz. “Their phones are probably the best value for money and I am a huge admirer.”

“I bunked work today,” said Gurgaon-based professional Rohit Kumar, “but it was one of the best moments of my life to be at the launch.”

At the end of the event, each Xiaomi fan was gifted a Mi fitness band worth Rs999 ($16).

“I think their idea is to create a cult following, much like how Harley-Davidson or Royal Enfield has done,” Faisal Kawoosa, head of telecom practices at Gurgaon-based CyberMedia Research, told Quartz. “This would be first time the same is extended to the mobile industry.”