New Xiaomi phone swaps own interface for Google’s in push to boost global sales

The Mi A1 smartphone will be the first not to use the Chinese company’s own operating system, and will go on sale in 40 markets worldwide, but not in mainland China

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 September, 2017, 8:49pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2018, 5:57pm

Xiaomi has teamed up with Google to launch a dual-camera smartphone running on Android One as the Chinese smartphone maker tries to step up its presence in fast-growing international markets such as India, Indonesia and Russia.

The company unveiled the Mi A1 smartphone at an event in the Indian capital of New Delhi on Tuesday.

In using Android One, an interface almost identical to Google’s standard Android operating system, the device becomes the first Xiaomi smartphone that does not run its proprietary MIUI interface, which has faced criticism for its similarities to Apple's operating system iOS.

“We recognise that some of our users prefer a different flavour of Android,” said Donovan Sung, Xiaomi Global’s director of product management and marketing.

“With the Mi A1, we are offering a unique experience of combining hardware with a stock Android, bringing a pure Android pairing.”

The device will be available in 40 markets, including Hong Kong, where it will be priced at HK$1,799 (US$230) and will be on sale from Thursday.

Xiaomi’s home market in mainland China is noticeably missing from the list, likely because of China’s blocking of all Google services in the mainland. However, Chinese users keen to buy a phone with the same specifications but running MIUI can turn to the 1,499 yuan (US$229) Mi 5X, which was launched in July in China.

The Google-powered Mi A1 comes with 4GB RAM and 64GB storage space, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 625 octa-core processor and a 3,080 mAh battery. Xiaomi also said that the 12MP wide-angle lens and 12MP telephoto lens for the dual-camera system surpasses rivals like Apple and OnePlus in terms of photo quality.

“The Mi A1’s pricing is pretty aggressive,” said Bryan Ma, vice-president of client devices research in IDC Asia Pacific and Worldwide. “It makes for a premium product that will be rather competitive against offerings from the likes of OnePlus, Oppo [and so forth].”

Google’s Android One low-cost smartphones and tablets were typically sold in developing countries, although Jon Gold, global director of Android partner programmes at Google, said that the company has been “rolling out Android One devices with a broader range of specifications.”

“Android One is no longer about entry-level devices,” said Gold. “It now spans a broad range of devices and price points.”

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In an interview with reporters, Xiaomi’s Sung called Google an important strategic partner, and brushed off concerns that sales of the Mi A1 would be affected in India, its largest international market, due to a border stand-off between China and India.

“Our mission is to bring innovation to everyone, not just people in China, Hong Kong or Taiwan. We want to bring it to everyone globally, including India,” Sung said. “Politics aside, we are confident that our value-added products ... will be strongly welcomed by users globally.”