Ok, so, let’s get this out of the way: Xiaomi is expanding to the US and EU on June 1, so it is no longer ok that you don’t know anything about them. Xiaomi is a privately owned Chinese Electronics Company based in Beijing. They are the 3rd largest smartphone distributor worldwide. You have probably heard of the two biggest smart phone distributors (Samsung and Apple) and likely the forth and fifth largest (Lenovo and LG). Why haven’t you heard of Xiaomi? Here are a few possible reasons:
- Xiaomi doesn’t distribute to the majority of rich countries (e.g. the US, Japan, Korea, anywhere in the EU) 
- Xiaomi is only 5 years old. The company was founded in April 2010, released their first phone August 2011
- The west tends to be confused by anything going on in China and we like to pretend that anything we don’t understand doesn’t exist
Ok. Now you have at least heard of Xiaomi. Here is what you should know about Xiaomi to be a reasonably educated human:
- Xiaomi is considered “The world’s most valuable startup… with a valuation of $46 bn” - Source
- Xiaomi products are ridiculously cheap. They claim that they price phone hardware near the cost of materials and will make money on e-commerce/services.
- This means that Xiaomi competes at the low end of the market. They have been crushing Android based alternatives that compete in the low end market
- This also means that you should ignore articles that claim Xiaomi is going to destroy Apple. For now, they compete in different market segments with different product priorities
- They iterate extremely quickly. Xiaomi finds feature ideas in their forums and can have an implemented version weeks later. Don’t be surprised if their apps are a mix of polish and touch edges with weekly updates. They are similarly still sorting out distribution. For example, shipping to the US is currently fast and direct to your door from China, but costs more than the products themselves
- Xiaomi is lead by CEO Lei Jun, President Bin Lin, and VP Hugo Barra 
Here is a bit about the etymology of their name from wikipedia that you can tell people at parties if you run out of things to say
The name Xiaomi is the Chinese word for “millet”. In 2011, its CEO Lei Jun suggested there are more meanings than just the “millet and rice.” He linked the “Xiao” part to the Buddhist concept that “a single grain of rice of a Buddhist is as great as a mountain,” suggesting Xiaomi wants to work from the little things, instead of starting by striving for perfection, while “mi” is an acronym for Mobile Internet and also Mission Impossible, referring to the obstacles encountered in starting the company. He also stated that he thinks the name is cute. In 2012 President Lei Jun said that the name is about revolution and being able to bring innovation into a new area. Several sources have linked the latter meaning to the Communist Party of China’s “millet and rifle” (小米加步枪) revolutionary idiom during the Second Sino-Japanese War.
Ok and finally a bit to know about their products:
- The build quality of their products feels and looks very nice. You should be thinking fancy metal Apple knock-offs instead of the cheap plastic/rubber phones you would expect at the low end of the market
- The software is still struggling and it will take time before they can hope to catch up to Samsung or Apple
- Their phones won’t be coming to the US anytime soon unless they sort out the large number of patents they are assumed to be violating
- Xiaomi is leading the way in producing of Internet of Things products with a quickly growing lineup that already includes a blood pressure monitor, air purifier, smart lightbulb, and smart scale
If you want to learn more then google away, but I strongly recommend you check out Ben Thompson’s article before anything else. There is a lot of hype and clickbait out there and Ben does a great job of filtering out all of that noise. Coming soon I’ll write reviews of the MiPower Bank, Mi Band, and Mi Smart Scale. In the mean time, check out The Verge’s thoughts on Xiaomi’s flagship phone the mi note.
Oh cool. If you read the first line of this post then you know that this is changing June 1. Look how smart and worldly you are now! ↩
Seriously, you didn’t know anything about the world’s most valuable “startup”? You should probably force yourself to actually read this whole post instead of skimming ↩
You can always google them to read more about them if you like, but at least now you will recognize those names when they pop up in the news. Note that Hugo was at Google as VP of product management for Andoid before moving ↩