Commentary

Latest 'concept phone' could make or break Xiaomi

The Xiaomi launch event that I attended in Beijing last week was an exercise in contrasts.

The Note 2 was a predictable phone, flogged by a staid Tony Leung, who gamely smiled and posed for photos.

The Mi Mix "concept phone" was a risky, limited-run device endorsed by garrulous design titan Philippe Starck.

The pair of new products represent two ends of the spectrum for Chinese electronics company Xiaomi.

While the Note 2 is traditional and somewhat safe, the Mi Mix is chock full of electronic wizardry to win over technophiles.

The launch comes at a critical time. Mr Daniel Gleeson, senior analyst, consumer technology at Ovum, said: "It's no secret that Xiaomi is struggling in China to hold on to its market share."

Under heavy fire from competitors such as Oppo and Huawei, is the Mi Mix enough to turn the tide? The answer, I think, is a cautious "yes".

Smartphone buyers are a fickle bunch who chase not just top specs and an elegant design, but also a unique experience.

A customer checking out a Xiaomi smartphone in a Beijing store. How Xiaomi's gamble with the Mi Mix pans out will become evident over the next few months.
A customer checking out a Xiaomi smartphone in a Beijing store. How Xiaomi's gamble with the Mi Mix pans out will become evident over the next few months. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

A phone has to be exclusive- and special - to pique a buyer's interest.

And creating that unique experience is something that the Mi Mix does well.

The large, edgeless screen and gunmetal ceramic body go a long way towards making the phone feel a cut above your usual device.

Mr Thomas Husson, vice-president and principal analyst of marketing and strategy at Forrester, said that it "fits quite well with Xiaomi's DNA in innovation and design", while various international publications have called it a "game changer", "sci-fi" and "magical".

Not all who have seen the phone agree, though.

Principal analyst at IHS Markit Jusy Hong said: "The Mi Mix has a beautiful design and screen, but I don't know what new experience this feature can bring. Xiaomi needs to figure out what benefit this edgeless design can give users."

Whether Xiaomi's gamble with the Mi Mix has paid off will become evident over the next few months. The company will be testing the waters by selling the phone in limited quantities in China, and seeing how consumers respond.

Hopefully, the Mi Mix's blend of technology and design fares well because, if it does, we can see many more of these devices around.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 02, 2016, with the headline 'Latest 'concept phone' could make or break Xiaomi'. Print Edition | Subscribe