I’ve been sitting on this Google+ post from Xiaomi’s Hugo Barra for about a week now. Don’t let the poor quality of the photo dissuade you from its significance; this is (I believe) the first public photo of Barra on this side of the world since he left Google to work for Xiaomi last summer. Not only that, but he’s apparently here on business, talking to Brazilian officials about bringing China’s smartphone sensation to that country.
So why Brazil and not the USA? Is it favouritism at play here for this Brazilian-born exec? Or is there something specific to the North American market that’s keeping Xiaomi away?
Google Translate to the Rescue
Here, in Portuguese, is the accompanying text to Barra’s photo:
Conversa muito boa hoje à noite com os simpaticíssimos Professor Anastasia (Governador de Minas Gerais) e Embaixador Valdemar Carneiro Leão na residência oficial da Embaixada do Brasil em Beijing, com direito a pão de queijo e guaraná. Começamos a falar em levar a Xiaomi à América Latina começando pelo Brasil. Obrigado a ambos pelo apoio!
I ran it through Google Translate and got this:
Very good conversation tonight with simpaticíssimos Teacher Anastasia (Governor of Minas Gerais) and Ambassador Valdemar Carneiro Leao at the official residence of the Embassy of Brazil in Beijing, with the right cheese bread and guarana. We started talking about taking the Xiaomi Latin America starting in Brazil. Thank you both for your support!
So it would appear that Barra met with Brazilian governor Antônio Augusto Junho Anastasia and Brazilian ambassador to China Valdemar Carneiro Leão about the possibility of Xiaomi doing business there. That’s great for Brazil, but what about the rest of us?
Unfortunately I can think of at least three reasons why Xiaomi might never come to the United States or Canada:
1. There’s the general hysteria about cyber-warfare with the Chinese state. Both Huawei and ZTE have been called out as a threat to the US, which is kind of hilarious when you consider, you know… the NSA and stuff.
2. It’s entirely possible that some kind of deal was made between Google and Xiaomi. It might be specific to Barra’s defection or it might just be carving up territory, a “stay out of the US and we’ll stay out of China” type-thing.
3. My own theory is that we’ll never see an official Xiaomi presence in the US or Canada because of our dysfunctional relationship with device subsidies.
While I understand and appreciate that not everyone can pay $700 up front for the latest Samsung Galaxy whatever, the thing about device subsidies is that they take the purchasing power away from you and put it in the hands of your carrier. And carriers have a tendency to wreck things.
I think this is why Xiaomi chose Singapore as its first foray into international markets. I’ve been there a couple of times, and the mobile culture there seems very much like Hong Kong, where paying the full retail price for an unlocked phone is the norm.
Granted, Xiaomi does sell their new Redmi through at least one carrier—PCCW in Hong Kong. But I’m willing to bet that it was PCCW who came knocking on Xiaomi’s door, rather than the other way around.
I’d love nothing more to be proven wrong on this, but I just don’t see Xiaomi coming to the North American market anytime soon.