In a move that has set the world of Tech blogging on fire on Wednesday July 30, 2014, Xiaomi’s eternally twitchily nervous but enthusiastic CEO Lei Jun introduced the Mi4 to an unsuspecting world. Within hours, a worldwide mass of techies was pulling no punches accusing Xaomi, the world’s fastest growing smartphone manufacturer and “the Apple of China” according to Business Insider, of planning to sell its new model so cheaply that it threatens to destroy the current smartphone status-quo instantaneously.
Hyperbole? Well, yeah! Still, the prevailing thinking is that most of these smartphones are low-priced Chinese junk and that the public will remain loyal to their familiar Apple, Android and Blackberry favorites. The ambitious Lei Jun, who is known for dressing head-to-toe in black (is he copying Johnny Cash, or, umm, somebody else?), is a very savvy operator and already has a fanatical cult-of-personality-type fan-base in Asia. All this chitchat, of course, may just be so much PR window-dressing. What really matters is cost, however, and the -US$300 price difference between the Xiaomi Mi4 and the Apple iPhone5S is, simply put, Apple’s profit.
The Xiaomi Mi4 smartphone has a sharp 5-inch screen and powerful specs available for approximately $320. That’s quite a stunning deal. But then along comes Daring Fireball’s sarcastic tech critic Jon Gruber, who accuses Xaomi of simply remaking Apple’s iPhone 5S in an overt copy-and-paste way. One thing I know for sure is that the Xiaomi MiPad tablet is 100 percent identical to the iPad Mini, including resolution and measurements, because I checked it out at the CES in Vegas.
Things get weirder and weirder if you follow where Gruber takes you. Xiaomi’s PR and marketing uses sources out of National Geographic’s classic photo archives and pro individual work off Flickr, telling consumers that they were taken in by the Xiaomi Mi4. Xaiomi are caught red-handed – the website that shows off the Mi3‘s camera uses photos from sources like National Geographic and copyrighted photos from professional photographers on Flickr and then has the unmitigated gall to pass them off as images taken with the phone.
The only thing that is undeniably true is that Xiaomi are a huge boffo hit, an incredible success story. While planning on expanding to the two most densely populated countries where copyright laws are basically nonexistent, Brazil and India, Xiaomi’s corporate ill-behavior makes Lei Jun look more like Jesse James than Steve Jobs, though Xiaomi already sells more phones in China than Apple does, but their true nemesis is Samsung, the biggest smartphone maker in the world, who they beat price-wise by a 50 percent margin.
Apple and the U.S. federal government are surely both interested parties in the politics of what happens next. Having both openly trampled upon U.S. and U.N. intellectual laws over the years and spent a lot of money ‘lobbying’ Congress and the Senate, Samsung now finds itself receiving the same treatment from a Chinese rival. Lei Jun may long to invade the U.S. and tear off a piece of the action, but it will be hard for him to pull this one off legally.
Banning Xiaomi’s products legally may end up being easy. Holding back a tsunami of illegal trade in super cheap phones, however, may mean there will be a lot of hiring by the Treasury department.