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Xiaomi Corp’s new top-of-the-line 12S Ultra smartphone will initially get a China-only release. Photo: Handout

China’s Xiaomi throws down gauntlet to rival Android handset makers, Apple with launch of Leica Camera-equipped smartphones

  • The new 12S-series smartphones unveiled by Xiaomi feature advanced imaging systems co-engineered with German partner Leica
  • The launch reflects Xiaomi founder Lei Jun’s pledge to ratchet up the firm’s challenge to Apple in the high-end segment of the smartphone market
Chinese Big Tech firm Xiaomi Corp has unveiled its latest 12S-series flagship smartphones, highlighting advanced imaging systems co-engineered with Germany’s Leica Camera that could help set them apart from other major Android handsets and Apple’s iPhone in a shrinking global market.

Xiaomi’s three new Android models, including the top-of-the-line 12S Ultra, combine Leica’s in-depth understanding of optics, image processing and image quality with the 12-year-old Chinese firm’s experience in smartphone computing photography, according to a joint statement released in Beijing on Monday.

Lei Jun, Xiaomi’s founder and chief executive, said at the launch that the cost of these photographer-friendly smartphones might be “disappointing” for consumers, who expect affordable price tags, because “it’s very difficult to make a high-end model because the investment is huge”.

Xiaomi’s new 12S Ultra, which the company touts as the first Android device to support Hollywood-style Dolby Vision high-definition video recording and playback, starts from 5,999 yuan (US$895). Prices for the 12S Pro and 12S start from 4,699 yuan and 3,999, respectively.

Xiaomi Corp’s new 12S Pro, like its top-of-the-line 12S Ultra model, features a premium, 6.7-inch, active-matrix organic light-emitting diode display. Photo: Handout
The 12S Ultra, which will initially get a China-only release, is built with a sizeable main camera on the back. It features a 50.3-megapixel, 1-inch Sony IMX989 image sensor and Leica Summicron lens, with a zoom range of 13 to 120 millimetres. Xiaomi shouldered half of the US$15 million cost to develop that sensor with Sony Corp.

Shares of Xiaomi in Hong Kong closed down 3.47 per cent to HK$13.36 on Tuesday.

Leica and Xiaomi announced their strategic cooperation in May after the German company’s much-publicised partnership with Huawei Technologies Co – which started in 2015 and led to their initial collaboration, the premium P9 smartphone, in 2016 – ended in March this year. Shenzhen-based Huawei has continued to struggle under US trade sanctions.

“For almost a decade now, we have been successfully incorporating our know-how into camera systems in the smartphone segment,” said Matthias Harsch, Leica’s chief executive, in a separate statement released on Monday in the firm’s home city of Wetzlar, Germany. “Today, we and Xiaomi have come together to present the beginning of a new era in the world of smartphone photography.”

Xiaomi sharpens focus on high-end smartphones to challenge Apple

Xiaomi’s new flagship smartphone launch reflects founder Lei’s commitment earlier this year to ratchet up the firm’s challenge to Apple by focusing on the high-end segment of the smartphone market.
In August last year, Lei said Xiaomi aims to become the world’s largest smartphone vendor in three years’ time.
Competition, however, remains tough for Xiaomi. The company ranked third behind Samsung Electronics and Apple in the first quarter, when global smartphone shipments saw the steepest decline since the Covid-19 outbreak in 2020 amid economic headwinds and sluggish seasonal demand, according to research firm Canalys.
Xiaomi, in the same quarter, reported weak sales and flagging profit, as China’s strict zero-Covid-19 measures dampened demand and disrupted supply chains across the country.

Chinese smartphone giant Xiaomi’s first-quarter profits halved amid lockdowns

Apple’s iPhone also continued to lead the world’s premium smartphone market segment, covering handsets priced from US$400, with a 62 per cent share in the first quarter this year, according to data released by Counterpoint Research on June 23. It said the iPhone 13 has been the world’s bestselling premium smartphone since October last year.

China smartphone sales in May fell to 19.12 million units, down 19.7 per cent from a year earlier, according to data from Cinno Research. Xiaomi recorded sales of 2.7 million units that month, behind those of Honor, Oppo, Vivo and Apple.
While the jury is still out on the potential global demand for Xiaomi and Leica’s initial co-engineered devices, Huawei had an auspicious run with the German firm before US sanctions were tightened in August 2020. In the second quarter that year, Huawei unseated Samsung for the first time to top the world in smartphone shipments.