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Hugo Barra: Xiaomi has Busted its “Copycat” Characterization

May 16, 2015 - Written By Lucius Bossio

According to Hugo Barra, Xiaomi and other Chinese smartphone brands are finally shedding the stigma that they only produce copies of Western devices. For quite some time Xiaomi was only known by Westerners as the Apple copycat; admittedly, many of their early smartphone designs and marketing campaigns were in fact quite “Apple-esque”. However, with Xiaomi’s rise to the echelons of the smartphone marketplace last year, consumers and the press began to put a greater focus on how fast the company way establishing itself, rather than how much Xiaomi wished they were Apple.

In a recent interview, Hugo Barra noted that the release of the Mi Note flagship in January represented a critical turning point with respect to how Chinese smartphone companies are perceived on the global stage. Barra pointed to the very favorable reviews the Mi Note had garnered from significant technology outfits outside of China as justification for his claims. Chinese smartphones have received favorable reviews regarding performance for a while, while what set the Mi Note apart, was the positive attention placed on the phone’s design: “many others that have looked at the device have said this is such a unique statement from Xiaomi,” Barra said.

Most people will probably recognize Hugo Barra, from the time he spent as an executive at Google. There he was the spokesperson for the Android platform, speaking at major press events and Google I/O. Nearly two years ago he made the move over to Xiaomi where he now serves as VP of International. Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun courted the Google executive in order to help the upstart Chinese manufacturer expand its international presence. Barra also praised the Chinese tech industry in general, stating that as Chinese manufacturers have expanded they have really come into their own and are producing a tremendous amount of innovation, particularly with respect to product design, which has long been a sore spot for Chinese OEMs.

Busting the long-held perception of being merely a copycat of other major manufacturers in the smartphone space, particularly Apple, is critical for Xiaomi’s global expansion. Xiaomi recently announced a beta test of its online accessory store in the UK, which is coming to the US later this year, which Barra sees as a critical first step for building brand awareness among Western consumers. Xiaomi has previously noted that 2015 will be defined by their rapid expansion into international markets, the fruits of which have already begun to take shape. In April Xiaomi launched the Mi 4i in India and it is the first phone they have designed specifically for international markets.

In reference to Xiaomi’s potential in international markets Barra concluded: “We’re now building world-class products that can stand up on their own against anything you compare them against, even Apple.” If Xiaomi wants their expansion abroad to be successful, they better hope they not only compare well with Apple, but differentiate themselves from the American company as well. Even if Xiaomi does have the desire to release some of its early devices internationally, they probably couldn’t due to the threat of litigation from Apple. Confining itself to its domestic market allowed the company to presumably, draw influence from Apple while protecting that influencing from potential accusations of copyright infringement. We all remember the endless copyright battles between Apple and Samsung. Samsung, a juggernaut itself, could handle the full weight of Apple bearing down upon them without crumbling, it is more doubtful as to whether a fledgling Chinese OEM could do the same. Thus, Xiaomi establishing their own identity could not have come at a more opportune moment.