To launch our "Made in China" series I wanted to start small.
China is primarily known for manufacturing some of the more sophisticated consumer electronics products such as Apple's iPhone and the iPad, as well as a number of Android handsets such as those made by Motorola and Google.
And while it produces many small and large appliances, there are few actual Chinese brands that have any recognition at all in the US and other export markets such as the EMEA.
Xiaomi, founded in 2010 and headquartered in Beijing, is the 4th largest smartphone manufacturer in the world and has the largest share of any smartphone manufacturer in all of China.
When you have a domestic market that is four times larger than the United States, even the fourth largest handset manufacturer in the entire world, let alone all of China, it's an impressive statistic. Xiaomi currently uses Hon Hai (FoxConn) and Inventec as its ODMs, both Taiwanese firms with substantial plant and fab capability on the mainland.
Xiaomi's domestic marketshare is growing at an incredible rate in China, outpacing giant companies like Huawei, Lenovo and even major foreign brands like Apple and Samsung. The company is also producing products other than smartphones, some of which are starting to appear on North American shores, such as through specialty online retailers like Amazon.
One such product is their Yeelight bedside lamp ($70), which is a LED smart lighting device that is evocative of devices being produced by Philips, Belkin WeMo and Osram Sylvania.
The Yeelight is about nine inches tall and is cylindrical shaped. It has a very sharp and clean industrial design, similar to that what you might expect from a company like Apple -- although Cupertino doesn't produce smart lighting devices, yet.
The LED array has a very high range of color temperature (1700K-6500K at 300 lumens, which is the level between a match light and that of a fluorescent lighting tube) and can produce a range of about 16 million colors.
It has a simple set of controls at the top to turn the device on and to switch between white and color lighting modes. A touch-sensitive face on the top can be used to change lighting intensity as well as alter the color hue.
More fine-tuning, such as adjusting color phase speeds, custom hues and intensity can be accomplished through a Yeelight application for Android and iOS that can be downloaded through Apple and Google's respective app stores.
The connectivity to the phone is accomplished via pairing the device to the app through Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) rather than Wi-Fi.
The shortcomings are rather minor considering the device only costs $70 and has such a high-quality build, which undoubtedly would have cost double the price had it been branded by one of the more recognizable CE giants.
The Yeelight app can register more than one lamp, but you can't coordinate the lighting modes between lamps as you can do with Hue, WeMo and Osram -- such as synchronizing color phasing, grouping devices and timer schedules.
Since connectivity between the lamp and the handset is direct rather than through a Wi-Fi to BLE/Zigbee bridge (like Hue, WeMo, SmartThings or Osram) there is no API to develop for so you can't write apps that interface with the device, such as have lighting effects that respond to music or have color "themes" that you would find in more expensive products, like Philips' Hue devices.
But the new Yeelight and other YeeLink products are already in pre-production, and will be much more sophisticated.
In the summer of 2016, Xiaomi will be bringing its products to the US market with much wider distribution, as well as with native packaging, localized documentation and applications -- which will include support for Wi-Fi, IFTTT, additional IoT connectivity/interface standards, US social networking services and all of the things you would expect from a coordinated smart lighting system.
The company has not stated whether this will occur under its own brand, via a partnership with an existing CE brand or via a new brand entirely. But what is for certain is that Xiaomi is going to make a big splash with intelligent lighting in the US, and is potentially poised to become a market leader in that industry, especially if their current design aesthetic, build quality and overall value for the dollar is of any indication.