Xiaomi gearing up to take on Google, Amazon in battle for ‘smart’ homes

The Chinese smartphone maker and internet company wants to make everything— from an air purifier to a fan—smart.


For Manu Jain, Xiaomi’s Global Vice President and Managing Director of India operations, being the country’s largest-selling smartphone maker is not enough. The 38-year-old wants a share of everything that is tech by creating an ecosystem of products and devices centered around the phone.

“We want to be the coolest technology company,” said Jain, who like most tech company executives was dressed in a pair of jeans and a white T-shirt matched with a trendy blue jacket and sneakers that completed the casual look.

Xiaomi gearing up to take on Google, Amazon in battle for ‘smart’ homes

Manu Kumar Jain, Managing Director of Xiaomi India, poses next to the logo of Xiaomi after an interview with Reuters inside his office in Bengaluru, India, January 18, 2018. Image: Reuters

But, when it comes to Xiaomi’s India plans, there is nothing casual about it.

“Anything that you want to do in your life, any product that you want to have, whether it is a physical product or a digital product, we want to have a play in that eventually,” Jain tells tech2.

And anything here means just about everything — a phone, TV, chair, door, AC or even the humble ceiling fan.

The battle for a ‘smart’ home is about to get fierce. The Beijing-headquartered company is ready to take on Google and Amazon, the big boys of home automation businesses.

Google has Google Home, and Amazon has built home automation around the artificially-intelligent Alexa.

For Jain, Xiaomi is much more than a smartphone maker. It’s an e-commerce company, an Internet of Things (IoT) company, an internet services company, and also a financial services company.

“Anything that you see around yourself, we want to make it smart...,” said Jain.

There is more. “Any internet service related to it. Maybe an app to control all the lights – it can be our lights or third-party lights, an app that can automate your entire house. If you need money, we should be able to provide you money. Anything you want to do in your life, we want to provide a technology solution for that.”

True to his word, Xiaomi on 3 December formally launched Mi Credit in India, a lending service for personal loans. The service allows smartphone users quick loans of up to Rs 1 lakh.

Mi Credit launched in India.

Mi Credit launched in India.

India is vital to Xiaomi’s plans as the country is the company’s biggest market outside China.

In the third quarter of 2019, Xiaomi was India’s largest selling smartphone, with 27.1 percent market share, according to the market research firm IDC. Samsung was a distant second with 18.9 percent followed by Vivo, Realme, and Oppo.

Founded in China 10 years ago, Xiaomi is often referred to as the “Apple of China”. Over the years, Xiaomi has charted its own path, much different and diverse from Apple, with a slew of consumer durables and appliances, electric scooters, electronic accessories, and internet services.

For Jain, the launch of Mi Credit was the “third phase of evolution” for Xiaomi in India. “Phase-I was all about setting up and understanding. It’s because I don’t come from a smartphone industry,” said Jain, who in 2012 co-founded Jabong, the online fashion e-tailer that was acquired by Flipkart.

The second phase was from 2016 to 2018, when the company concentrated on the smartphone business and consolidated the number one position.

It's only in the last one and a half years that the company has expanded into other spaces. It launched smart TVs, smart air and water purifiers, and a host of internet services, including Mi Music, Mi Video, Mi Pay, and Mi Credit.

But, the non-smartphone business for Xiaomi is small in India. Jain won’t share the number.

Globally, smartphones contributed 60.1 percent to the company’s revenue in the September-ended quarter against 68.8 percent in the same period last year.

In China, the share of smartphone and non-smartphone revenues is almost the same.

Xiaomi Mi Air Purifier 2S.

Xiaomi Mi Air Purifier 2S.

“In China, we have a lot more ecosystem products,” said Jain. “In China, we launch a new category or a new device every four days. In India, we do a launch of non-phone thing maybe once every two months.”

India, however, has its upside. The smartphone business in China is stagnating but in India, it is still growing.

But there are problems too. Not everything that works in China works here. “We had to redesign the entire water purifier for India. Smart scooters don’t work well in India, given the road conditions in India,” Jain said.

That, however, hasn’t deterred the company that plans to launch a range of non-phone products. Larger appliances is a focus area.

“We do not know which one will come first, whether the washing machine, or refrigerator or AC, or laptop or something else, but these are definitely things that we are evaluating. Maybe you will see some of them in the next one to two years,” Jain said.

Xiaomi is also betting on financial services and it seems to be working. In a pilot, across 1,500 pin codes, Xiaomi is lending Rs 1 crore a day.

But, Jain is not in a hurry. “Our approach in life is to go step by step, go slow, do fewer things, do them right… We don’t need to try and do everything on Day Zero.”

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