Company / division: Xiaomi
Google’s Android One project for emerging markets was launched in 2014, and focused on countries in the Indian subcontinent and other parts of Asia. But it’s appeared to be struggling, with little recent positive news from vendors supporting it in those countries. In addition, at its I/O developer conference this year Google announced a project internally called Android Go, which is focused on optimizing Android for low-cost devices and therefore seemed to be in somewhat the same vein. But the funny thing about Android One is that’s it’s been morphing somewhat from a project for the low end of the Android market to one more targeted at the mid market. There have been several Android One phones through Sharp in Japan since mid-2016, and now Xiaomi is announcing a device. which seems at least in part targeted at India.
The most interesting thing about Xiaomi as a partner is the fact that it’s always majored on its proprietary UI – MIUI – as a differentiator for its devices, and it’s arguably that the fairly locked-down Android One was intended at least in part as a response to Android OEMs’ customizations, so this is certainly a departure for Xiaomi. As with the Japanese phones, though, this one is also targeted at the mid-market, selling for a little over $200, with 80% of handsets sold in India below $200. So it’s a poor fit for the original focus of the Android One project, which is arguably now being taken over by the Android Go initiative, but indicative of what Android One is evolving into. The big question is whether the device will actually sell, given that a Xiaomi phone without MIUI is a tougher sell and there are plenty of other cheaper Android phones in the countries the companies are targeting with this one. There’s certainly no guarantee Android One does any better in India at $200 plus than it did at $100.
New smartphone shipment and market share numbers are out for Q2 from various analyst firms, and they all show the same broad pattern: somewhere between a modest decline and modest growth year on year for the market as a whole, modest growth for Apple and Samsung, and strong performances by three Chinese vendors, with Huawei making significant gains in the number three spot. IDC, Strategy Analytics, and Canalys among others differed slightly on the exact shipment numbers, while Strategy Analytics seems to find another 20 million or so shipments somewhere compared with the others. The top four spots have now remained unchanged for over a year, with the exception of Q4 last year, when Apple briefly pipped Samsung for the number one spot, though this quarter Xiaomi’s resurgence squeezed Vivo barely out of the top five. Huawei got within a few million of Apple’s sales total for the first time off the back of pretty strong growth, but Xiaomi had by far the fastest growth (which you already know if you’ve read two earlier pieces on Huawei and Xiaomi). The broader picture has Chinese vendors dominating the top ten, though these firms only report the top five in their public releases: by my count, Chinese vendors take seven of the top ten spots, with Apple, Samsung, and LG the only exceptions. And those Chinese vendors rely enormously on the Chinese market for their sales, while several have no presence in the US at all, meaning that the smartphone market is increasingly fragmented globally, with different players taking the lead in different parts of the world.
via Android Police
Apple Drops to Fifth Place in China Smartphone Market in Q2 (Jul 26, 2017)
Xiaomi Announces $45 Smart Voice Speaker (Jul 26, 2017)
Strategy Analytics Says Apple Top Wearables Vendor in Q1 (May 8, 2017)
Counterpoint Says Apple has 80% Share of Premium Smartphones in China Despite Overall Fall (May 4, 2017)
Counterpoint, which I’ve referenced previously here as a solid source on smartphone market share and so on, especially in Asian markets, has an update on Q1 smartphone performance in China. The headline is that Apple, Xiaomi, and especially Samsung saw their shipments drop significantly year on year, while local companies Oppo, Vivo, and Huawei did better, in a market that grew just 4% year on year. The Apple drop is worth noting because China performance has been a major talking point on its recent earnings calls (including this week) and there are lots of explanations flying around about why it’s struggling there. I linked to this piece a while back, and Ben Thompson had an interesting piece this week on Stratechery about the role WeChat plays in China and how that impacts Apple. But it’s worth noting the details on the premium market in China in this Counterpoint post. It argues that Apple’s performance in China (as elsewhere) is highly cyclical, but that it consistently takes 80% of the $600+ market. In other words, Apple’s share remains very strong in the segment where it competes, but much of the activity in China is at lower levels where Apple doesn’t compete. In that sense, there’s nothing new here, and the growth of the sub-premium segments is to be expected in a maturing market that’s reaching lower income tiers of the population. But if the premium segment is actually shrinking in real terms rather than just relative terms, that’s more problematic because it would indicate consumers who could afford iPhones are nonetheless choosing to buy the cheaper alternatives. So far, I’ve seen little evidence of that, but it’s worth watching future numbers from Counterpoint and elsewhere to see if that pattern starts to emerge. For now, I’m still more inclined to read what’s happening in China as part of a cycle which is already starting to correct and should do so more meaningfully later this year.
The first part of this article gives too much credence to Xiaomi’s CEO’s projections about its future growth, taking them as given even though Xiaomi has struggled to meet its targets for smartphone shipments and growth for the last several years. But the rest of the article is interesting for what it says about where Xiaomi’s focus will be geographically going forward. Importantly, whereas one of the biggest questions about Xiaomi in recent years has been when it would come to the US, it seems to be moving in the opposite direction, doubling down on emerging markets like India rather than pushing into more mature markets. That will limit both its overall addressable market and the average selling price of its phones, given the disposable incomes in those markets and its product focus there, so Xiaomi’s future certainly won’t look very much like the one it projected a number of years ago, as a premium Android-based alternative to the iPhone.
Wearables grew 16.9% in Q4 2016, Fitbit still first but Xiaomi is gaining – VentureBeat (Mar 2, 2017)
The numbers here look about right, but what a far cry from the forecasts of the wearables market we saw a few years back. I recently wrote a piece on the state of the wearables market, in which I argued there are really three important sub-markets within wearables: the Apple Watch in its own category, dedicated fitness trackers (in which Fitbit dominates in western markets and Xiaomi in China), and Samsung’s various devices, many of which are bundled with smartphone purchases and therefore thrive on a rather different business models from the others. These IDC numbers largely back that up with market share numbers, but also reinforce the point I made in that article about how the market has fallen short of its theoretical potential and largely stopped growing. It can still grow, but the offerings need to get much better and broader in their appeal, and to some extent we also need the technology – especially in components – to catch up with the vision here.
I commented on the reports a couple of weeks back that Xiaomi would be building its own chips, and guessed that Xiaomi would likely start at the low end of its device range and work up from there, and that’s exactly what they’re doing: the Mi 5C is the first phone using Xiaomi’s homegrown chips, and sells for a little over $200. It’ll be interesting to see what if anything comes out of the reviews of the phone about its performance relative to Xiaomi’s earlier low-end phones – a solid early performance is critical for building confidence that Xiaomi knows what it’s doing here. The company also said it had spent a billion yuan – around $145 million – on building its capability, and that it received some help from the Chinese government, though it’s not clear how much. To put that in context, Apple’s acquisition of PA Semi alone cost $278 million, and that’s before all the additional work and money it put in organically following the acquisition to build its own chips. So though Xiaomi is splashing out somewhat here, it’s still a small investment in the context of earlier similar investments.
There’s a certain irony in a company which was a pioneer in its use of online retail falling back on brick and mortar stores as a way to shore up its business, but that’s what Xiaomi appears to be doing. It apparently wants to build 1000 stores in the next three years – roughly twice as many as Apple has globally, and 25 times as many as Apple has in China, by way of context. That’s a huge investment at a time when Xiaomi seems to be struggling, but physical retail is a good fit for the ecosystem of devices Xiaomi sells including both its own and its ecosystem devices for the home. Building its own chips is another big investment, and one that will likely take years to pay off – though it might establish some independence from current suppliers Qualcomm and MediaTek in the short term, the quality likely won’t be there from day one, so it’ll be interesting to see which of Xiaomi’s devices run its own chips – I’m guessing it’ll start by replacing MediaTek’s and work up from there. But it takes years to get really good in smartphone chips, and without an acquisition of existing talent here, I’m skeptical Xiaomi will do well anytime soon. Though Huawei is the local exemplar of this strategy, Apple and Samsung are still the gold standard for the make-your-own-chips strategy, and they’ve both been at it for years.
This is a good overview of how the international part of Xiaomi’s business fared over the last several years, while Hugo Barra was in charge, and it argues that Xiaomi’s progress during that time was limited to some countries and mostly symbolic elsewhere – gaining mind share but not market share. And of course, it still hasn’t fully launched in the US, which can be considered the biggest failure of Barra’s leadership of the international business, with the company’s first big CES press conference one of his last official actions in the role.
I cited some Counterpoint data on India the other day, and in that context said that they do a good job with these non-Western markets – these numbers are solid, although it’s interesting to see these results for China come out before Apple and several other companies have reported their results for the fourth quarter. Unlike India, China is a major contributor to Apple’s overall results, and there’s usually lots of commentary about the rate of growth there, so it’ll be interesting to compere these numbers with what Apple releases next week. In the meantime, there’s lot of interesting stuff here – over the full year, Xiaomi and Apple fared poorly out of the major vendors, though Apple’s Q4 sales held up a lot better than in Q1-Q3. Lenovo’s year in China was a disaster, and it will be very grateful once again that it has Motorola in the rest of the world to buoy things up a bit. The big story is Oppo and Vivo, which have broken into the top rankings globally off the back of a strong showing in China, but Huawei also did very well. It’s also interesting to look at the data in here on individual models, where the two iPhone 6s variants both score in the top 10, and two Oppo phones are in the top 5, including the number 1 slot. The whole post is well worth a read if you’re interested in the Chinese market.
Facebook has hired former Xiaomi and Google exec Hugo Barra as its new virtual reality chief – Recode (Jan 26, 2017)
Earlier this week, Hugo Barra announced that he was leaving Xiaomi, and now the other shoe has dropped – he’ll be taking over as head of VR at Facebook. It looks like that will make him effectively CEO of Oculus, though I wonder whether he’ll also be responsible for some of the less platform-specific stuff Facebook is working on, like taking Facebook’s social experiences into VR (Mark Zuckerberg’s post about the news features a picture of him and Barra – still in China – together in such a VR environment). Facebook certainly wants to have a major stake in the next user interface, and sees that as VR, but also seems realistic about the fact that no one platform – Oculus or otherwise – will have a dominant role there, and so it needs to evolve Facebook for VR in a way that works on lots of different systems. Whether or not Barra will run this broader set of VR activities at Facebook, hiring him is a big coup for the company – he’s a well-known and well-respected name, especially among developers.
Hugo Barra is leaving his position as head of international at Xiaomi after 3.5 years – TechCrunch (Jan 23, 2017)
I attended Xiaomi’s press conference at CES earlier this month, and once again the company disappointed by not bringing more of its big products to the US. Although Hugo Barra has been in charge of Xiaomi’s international expansion for three and a half years, it has mostly expanded into other markets like India rather than major mature markets like the US or European countries. Ostensibly, Barra’s reasons for departing now are personal – he misses friends and family in the US, and wants to return there. But I wonder if he’s also been frustrated by Xiaomi’s lack of progress in pushing into some of those big markets. It’s impossible to know who’s been making the final decision on some of those moves – whether Barra or CEO Lei Jun – but not making it into the most high profile markets outside of China as head of international must feel like something of a failure. As with other recent high profile executive moves, it’s tempting to see this as a sign of broader troubles at Xiaomi, and things do seem to have been going poorly there recently, but this is so far something of an isolated case.
Xiaomi stops disclosing annual sales figures as CEO admits the company grew too fast – TechCrunch (Jan 12, 2017)
It’s been apparent for some time that Xiaomi’s early stellar rise was not sustainable, and in 2015 it had to revise its guidance for smartphone sales downward and even then missed it by 10 million. Its business is growing though, including hitting $1 billion in sales in India last year, a strengthening retail business, and good growth in “Internet services”, though those still make up a small minority of sales, for all the talk about Xiaomi as a services company. At this point, Xiaomi is far closer in its model to Amazon than to Google or even Apple in its model – a retail and e-commerce company which sells some of its own hardware and also has a growing services business. But it’s been missing its targets and there’s no clarity about profitability yet at this point. Lots more detail in the CEO letter.