Xiaomi kicks off global expansion with Singapore launch

Chinese smartphone darling, Xiaomi, has kicked off its global expansion plans in Singapore where its Android devices will go on sale this Friday, marking the company's first foray into markets outside of Greater China.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor
Xiaomi's Hugo Barra (left) and Lin Bin at the Singapore launch. (Credit: Reuben Lee/CNET)

SINGAPORE--Chinese smartphone darling, Xiaomi, has kicked off its global expansion plans in Singapore where its Android devices will go on sale this Friday, marking the company's first foray into markets outside of Greater China. 

Its midrange Redmi Android offering will come with a price tag of S$169 (US$134.07), while its flagship Xiaomi Mi-3 handset will be available for S$419 (US$332.41) from March 7, reported CNET Asia's John Chan. The country's three mobile operators will be offering Redmi, including StarHub which was the first to announce its price plans for the device starting at S$0 with a post-paid plan. 

To mark its local launch, Xiaomi created a software theme on its MIUI platform with Singapore-centric app icons and a wallpaper of the city's skyline.  

Xiaomi's top executives were in town for the official launch Wednesday, including co-founder Lin Bin and vice president Hugo Barra, a former Google employee who was hired to spearhead the Chinese company's global expansion plans. 

A local service center will be opened soon to support Xiaomi customers in Singapore, and a bigger facility is in the pipeline as well as possibility of a retail outlet, Barra said. The country serves as the company's regional headquarters and will house its new corporate office and regional distribution center, both of which are scheduled to be opened soon.

The local office is looking to hire across all functions, including logistics, legal, finance, operations, product management as well as engineers, according to both executives. Barra added the engineering team here will focus on localization and features development to cater to consumers in this region. He said the company has no target headcount for the Singapore outfit, noting that hiring would "likely be the bottleneck" and it was "hiring as fast as we can".

Xiaomi is looking to launch next in neighboring Malaysia where it is currently looking for partners, but did not provide a timeline for when this would take place. It has no plans, however, to launch in North and Latin America due to the proximity gap, and company officials expressed more confidence in addressing the Asian region.

They added that the company needs to first ensure its logistics infrastructure can support demand in this region, especially since it sells its products directly to consumers online. They noted that Xiaomi also wants to understand user preferences in the different Asian markets, and pointed to Singapore as an ideal testbed in this aspect, with neighboring Malaysia as the logical next launch market.  

Lin said: "Singapore is a new market [for Xiaomi], beyond Greater China [which includes mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan]. We don't have a [target] number to sell as a KPI (key performance indicator), but what we'll be working hard on is to make sure we're here to learn, and want to hear how Singapore consumers use the products, and how to service the products. This is what we'll be focusing on at least for the next six months."

Barra added: "The initial rollout efforts in these countries will be slow and small only because we want to make sure we are doing the right things. There are all sorts of carrier-related issues that we sometimes can't really get right first time around. So we're going to start small then ramp up as quickly as the market wants us too ramp up, in Malaysia and beyond."

The company is looking actively at markets in Southeast Asia and "closely" at India, which Barra said has been earmarked as an important future market, though it has yet to make any definitive steps to launch there. 

Apart from its lower price points, Xiaomi is looking to differentiates itself by delivering a diferent user  experience via hardware, software, and services, he said, adding that the company constantly looks to "correct" itself along the way according to user feedback. 

Xiaomi first began peddling its wares three years ago, and sold 18.7 million handsets last year, up 160 percent from the year before, and it is targeting to more than double this number to 40 million in 2014. The smartphone maker was China's sixth-largest player in fourth-quarter 2013, with a 6 percent market share, according to IDC. With its strong growth momentum, the Chinese player is likely to emerge soon among the top five in the Chinese market, said Melissa Chau, IDC's Asia-Pacific senior research manager of client devices. 

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