The meteoric growth story of Xiaomi, the world’s No.3 smartphone maker would have been incomplete without India. Countervailing Samsung’s Galaxy S4, it first captured Indian hearts in July 2014 by its Mi3 model priced at 13,999 rupees. Within few seconds, the entire stock of its phones was gone in a flash sale on Flipkart. However, in January 2015 Delhi launch of its new Mi4 handset, Xiaomi outraged fans back home by showing an India map with Aksai Chin (Kashmir) and Arunachal Pradesh as governed by India. The marketing campaign immediately rekindled a geopolitical dispute between the two nations as both had made conflicting claims over these bordering regions in the past.
Chinese fans heavily criticised Xiaomi for shockingly forgetting its roots in a bid to make higher profits. Though, there isn’t any official clarification or apology as to why ‘China’s Apple’ showed such a controversial map, yet it was a move that came dangerously close to eroding its vast fanbase in China.
Considering India has over 117 million smartphone users and an undying hunger for smartphones, it is tempting to believe that Xiaomi’s map-of-India tactic was somewhat geared towards marketing success. Clearly, it wouldn’t have cut things to show the disputed territories under China’s control on a political map while launching a next-gen handset in New Delhi!
The map incident may be viewed by some as a calculated slight to China or just an inadvertent error. But just like earlier controversies, it couldn’t check Xiaomi’s growth path in India. To recall, Indian Air Force earlier had issued alerts to its staff and families from not using Xiaomi phones in view of data leaks to servers hosted in China. However, to allay security fears, the Chinese tech giant had later offered to set up both manufacturing and data centres in India itself. Similarly, the Ericsson patent suit and ensuing, temporary ban from Delhi High Court on selling phones, too, didn’t come in the way of its growth path. As an afterthought, it seems that Xiaomi has a habit of doing well in the face of repeat controversies.
All controversies aside, last year the company managed to sell a million phones in India without any marketing and 61 million phones worldwide. The 2011 upstart technology brand, now valued at over $46 billion continues to expand its India operations. For its flagship product Redmi Note 4G, it partnered with Airtel and is also in talks with other partners to launch full-scale ecommerce operations in India. Its latest, high-powered, first-ever stainless steel framed Mi4 phone, whose sale opens on 17th February has already attracted 200, 000 registrations on Flipkart. Recently, to offset iPhone-6 and iPhone-6 plus, its founder-CEO Lei Jin even launched two feature-packed Mi Note phones at literally half the prices, which may soon make an entry to India.
Now, with its new experience centres, service outlets, distribution networks and R&D team in India, Xiaomi is likely to surprise itself yet again in a big way.