In an irony likely not lost on executives in Cupertino, at a time when China is becoming Apple’s chief market, a Chinese smartphone maker is earning the reputation as the ‘Apple of the East.’
Xiaomi, which makes Android-powered lookalikes of the iPhone, is led by a young, brash and wealthy CEO who appears to be the second-coming of Steve Jobs.
From his jeans and dark shirt wardrobe to his company’s $1 billion balance sheet, Xiaomi’s Lei Jun, sees Apple as the template for moving China from the cheap rip-offs of yesterday to the Fortune 500 of tomorrow, according to a New York Times profile published Wednesday…
The article explains that Xiaomi was founded as a mobile startup by a group of Chinese engineers some three years ago.
They sold a cool seven million mobile phones last year “by using designs that mimic the look and feel of the iPhone and using marketing that seems right out of Apple’s playbook,” the newspaper writes.
Apple’s late CEO Steve Jobs (left) and Lei Jun (right). Notice any similarities?
All told, Xiaomi sold $2 billion worth of handsets in China throughout last year.
The Mi-1 smartphone, for example, sold out just two days after it was introduced in August 2011. A year later, the Mi-2 (pictured below) also quickly sold out.
The company, now worth $4 billion, has attracted the attention of venture capitalists behind Qualcomm, Facebook, Groupon and Zynga, according to the profile. Although Xiaomi is now privately-held, there is talk of taking the firm public.
Like Apple, the Chinese company focuses on young people who cannot afford a smartphone. To keep costs down, Xiaomi has no distributors, selling only online.
The tactic allows the company to sell a handset similar to the iPhone or Galaxy at half the price asked by Apple or Samsung. According to the profile, the firm also uses many of the suppliers Apple uses, including Apple’s favorite contract manufacturer Foxconn.
This has also enabled Xiaomi to leapfrog its bigger rivals. Case in point: their Xiaomi Box, pictured above and below, has many features not found on the $99 Apple TV.
Lei, who began his Jobs-like leadership after reading a book about the Apple co-founder during college in 1987, bristles at his critics.
“We’re not just some cheap Chinese company making a cheap phone,” he tells. “We’re going to be a Fortune 500 company.”
His language is strikingly like Jobs in his prime, explaining why Apple won’t make a cheap iPhone to satisfy Wall Street.
Ironically, of course, it was pressure from companies such as Xiaomi which is causing Apple to develop an inexpensive smartphone.