Xiaomi has been called an 'Apple rip-off' for years, now it has its own copycats
Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but China’s top-selling domestic smartphone maker Xiaomi, dubbed “China’s Apple” due to the clone-like nature of some of its products, may not be thrilled about the arrival of iMI Technology.
The brand name of this regional player in the low-end smartphone market sounds like it has borrowed from both the “iPhone” and “Xiaomi”. It uses almost the same typography for its logo as the Chinese brand.
Whether such marketing gimmicks have helped its success is unclear, but a number of its cheaper handsets, including the pink-backed iMI Lady, are reportedly enjoying robust sales in Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia.
To all intents and purposes, Thailand seems to be the company’s home market, even though it may not be a Thai company.
According to leiphone.com, a news website that specialises in smartphones and mobile internet in China, the brand’s models closely resemble Xiaomi smartphones in both name and appearance.
Media reports show that iMI’s cumulative smartphone sales have already hit 700 million baht (US$19.91 million) in Thailand, and a combined 1 billion baht in other Southeast Asian countries.
Although its official website (www.imitech.co.th) is all but impenetrable to non-Thai speakers, a Bangkok Post report dated July 2014 states that iMI Technology Thailand is in fact a unit of a Hong Kong-based smartphone maker.
The daily described iMI Technology’s Hong Kong headquarters as an original-design manufacturing unit, adding that it has made over 10 million smartphones at factories in China and Taiwan.
Production on this scale enables the company to offer competitive prices, the Thai newspaper reported.
iMI offers at least two Android-based smartphones for 6,000 baht and 9,000 baht. It also sells a smartwatch, among other products..
“We offer smartphone specifications to compete with the iPhone but priced below 10,000 baht to capture entry buyers,” Jacky Zhang, chief executive at iMI Technology Thailand, was quoted as saying. Zhang did not comment on Xiaomi.
One of Xiaomi’s strengths is that does not focus or rely exclusively on smartphones for revenue. It is now investing in start-ups to build a de facto portfolio of tech products for sale online. The company launched in 2010.
iMI’s Messi No.1, seemingly named after the Argentinean football star, targets male users and comes equipped with a five-inch OGS display and a 13-megapixel camera. OGS displays are known for their thin and lightweight design.
Its Lady 1 model is designed so that women can splash perfume on it without causing damage, according to promotional materials. It has a voice shutter command activated by saying the word “cheese”, the daily reported.
Chinese phone manufacturers gained a reputation in the early days for copying their Western forebears like Nokia and Motorola, before later moving on to target smartphone brands like Apple and Samsung.
Xiaomi has often taken flak for copying Apple’s designs while undercutting it on price to build traction in the Chinese market, which it led in terms of smartphone sales in the most recent quarter.
Even the company’s product launches and other public events evoke similar press outings by Apple, while Xiaomi chief executive Lei Jun routinely dresses in a black turtleneck and blue jeans, similar to late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.