​Xiaomi to launch online store in the US - but phones are off the cards

Flush with venture funding Chinese handset maker Xiaomi is taking a first set towards the US but the company is moving with caution.

Smartphone startup Xiaomi will soon start selling its products in the US, but for now handsets won't be among them.

The company announced plans to launch US sales on its online Mi store on Thursday at a press event in San Francisco.

The move marks its first step towards entering the US market after having gained a reputation in Asia as a maker of slick but affordable smartphones.

It's already eclipsed Samsung in China as the largest smartphone manufacturer by shipments there and sells also its phones online to consumers Hong Kong, Taiwan, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, India, and Indonesia.

However, its first move on the US will be limited to selling its less well-known products, such as its headphones and Mi Band wearable fitness tracker. "We are in the works of preparing for such a launch now but it will probably take a few months," a Xiaomi spokesman told ZDNet.

Hugo Barra, chief of Xiaomi's international operations, told press yesterday that obstacles to delivering its smartphones to Western markets included manufacturing, packaging, regulations, and the software hurdles with a language gap, ZDNet's sister site CNET reported on Thursday.

Xiaomi wouldn't be drawn on launches in other Western markets, saying: "We currently have no new information to share regarding Europe."

The company positions itself as an internet company rather than just a hardware seller, with services such as Mi Cloud and its MIUI Cloud Messaging platform that ships with its MIUI custom Android ROM.

The company yesterday said it had gained 100 million users of its MIUI ROM in the four and a half years since it was founded in August 2010, adding that it accounted for five out of every eight Android phone activations in the last month.

While investors have bet the company is worth $45bn, it's faced a few obstacles as it moves outside of its home market.

The company last year moved MIUI messaging workloads for consumers outside of China that to Amazon's cloud zones in Singapore and the US. Previously consumers were supported from a datacentre in China.

While it reduced latency for MIUI users, it also allayed concerns raised in Taiwan and Hong Kong after Xiaomi was called out for sending user data to servers in Beijing without user consent.

The company is also being sued in India by Swedish telecoms supplier Ericsson, which has accused Xiaomi of not licensing its patents. The suit so far has resulted on a temporary injunction some of Xiaomi's cheaper phones that use MediaTek chipsets, however the company is permitted to sell devices with the Qualcomm chips.

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