Xiaomi explores internet TV
Xiaomi's new internet TV product could stand a 50-50 chance of success if it can introduce a well-designed, user-friendly product.
Homegrown smartphone sensation Xiaomi is looking more and more like a Chinese version of global tech giant Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) these days, following the latest reports that the company is preparing to launch an internet TV product. I'm sure that Xiaomi's marketing-savvy founder Lei Jun loves the comparisons his company is getting to the world's biggest tech company, which of course would include the inevitable comparisons to Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. Perhaps Lei will even change his company's English name to "Little Rice", which is what Xiaomi means in Chinese, to play on Apple's own food-related associations.
But I'm digressing a bit from the main news bit behind this posting, namely media reports that Xiaomi is currently testing a set-top box that uses an operating system based on Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG) Android and which will stream content from China's rich field of video-streaming internet companies, which include the likes of industry leader Youku Tudou (NYSE: YOKU) as well as smaller stand-alone companies like Xunlei and PPLive. In line with its strategy of developing high-performance products that sell for reasonable prices, the new set-top boxes would retail for around 300 yuan each, or just under US$50.
News of this latest initiative comes as Xiaomi is preparing to launch its newest product, a second-generation smartphone, following a strong reception for its initial model launched in the middle of last year. This latest development of an Internet TV product would mirror Apple, which has been widely reported to be developing a similar product.
In fact, many of the things that Xiaomi has been doing lately seem to be direct copies of similar moves by Apple. Like its much bigger US counterpart, Xiaomi has chosen a strategy of focusing all of its energy on developing a single product, much the way that Apple develops only a single iPhone model at any one time. That strategy differs greatly from what most other companies do, with big names like Samsung (Seoul: 005930) and Nokia (Helsinki: NOK1V) usually developing many different models to try to appeal to as many customers as possible. Xiaomi even went so far as to name the 1.5 version of its first smartphone as the 1S, in what looks strikingly similar to Apple's decision to call the 4.5 version of its iPhones the 4S.
Also like Apple, Xiaomi has become quite adept at maintaining secrecy around its product development plans and then strategically leaking details to generate buzz and excitement. Tickets to a news event to announce the launch for the company's newest second-generation smartphone in August were reportedly selling for 199 yuan to excited fans of the company, generating huge buzz for the product.
So, the bigger question becomes: Can this Chinese company that is trying so hard to imitate its much bigger US idol achieve similar success to Apple? My guess is that like Apple in its earlier days, Xioami will make at least one or two major stumbles in its rapid development before it perhaps finds a more stable path to success. This internet TV initiative could perhaps be the first of those stumbles, though it could also do well. I would give this new initiative a 50-50 chance of success, as it does seem to be a product that could quickly find an audience if it's designed well and easy to use.
Bottom line: Xiaomi's new internet TV product could stand a 50-50 chance of success if it can introduce a well-designed, user-friendly product.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own. To read more commentaries from Doug Young, click on youngchinabiz.com