Xiaomi’s trying to get back in the game. The Chinese electronics maker unveiled a new flagship smartphone days after Samsung’s Galaxy S8 hit stores, hoping to regain lost ground even as Apple prepares to introduce its most anticipated device in years. Xiaomi Corp. took the wraps off the Mi 6 at a college gymnasium on the outskirts of Beijing on Wednesday. The phone sports flourishes now familiar to users of premium devices including the S8: curved glass, virtually non-existent bezels, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor and 6 gigabytes of memory. It also features dual cameras on the back. In a nod to Apple Inc.’s latest iPhone, Xiaomi also dropped the headphone jack. The Mi6 goes on sale April 28 starting at 2,499 yuan ($363).
The company has moved away from its roots as an online purveyor of cheap devices since local rivals from Oppo to Huawei Technologies Co. began to dominate the Chinese market with higher-end gadgets. Co-founder Lei Jun is going after his rivals not just with increasingly tricked-out phones, but also by adopting the nationwide store networks that super-charged the Oppo and Vivo brands. The company remains on track to open 1,000 stores within three years across China, and expects to chalk up 70 billion yuan of sales through that physical network in five years.
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“Xiaomi has faced some growth pressure over the past years because of our online-only model,” Lei told his launch audience. “I’m excited to say we’ve made a breakthrough.”
The billionaire co-founder is overhauling his company’s approach to regain its perch atop the world’s largest smartphone arena — it was ranked No. 5 in China in 2016 according to researcher IDC. Since becoming the country’s largest startup in 2014 with a valuation of $45 billion, the company began to slide the next year when it missed shipments targets. While taking a pounding at home, Xiaomi began to expand globally. Lei said the brand is now No. 2 in India, behind only Samsung Electronics Co. It’s also begun to deepen research into areas as diverse as artificial intelligence and online finance. It applied for 7,071 patents last year, and total patents will “soon” exceed 10,000,” Lei said.
For now, the company still gets much of its revenue from its home market. In January, former international head Hugo Barra left and then joined Facebook Inc., raising questions about Xiaomi’s ability to navigate its way through what Lei had described as “unforgettable” challenges.