Xiaomi, China’s two-year-old homegrown competitor to Apple that is valued at $4 billion, certainly doesn’t mess around. Just three months after launching its second-generation, high-spec smartphone, the Mi2, the startup has confirmed it will start selling a set-top box that is much like Apple TV.
Xiaomi’s charismatic CEO, Lei Jun, announced the new product on Sina Weibo, China’s leading microblogging site. Lei posted a picture of a cardboard box, accompanied with the comment: “Bingo! This time we’re only selling a box.” (This, according to The Next Web’s translation.) It will go on sale on November 14.
Although the set-top box has long been rumored, it might be considered a surprising move this early in Xiaomi’s existence, especially because the company has boasted about its hyper-focus on one smartphone model per year. Its Android-based smartphones have gained popularity in China for their affordability – each device is $470 cheaper than the iPhone 4S in China – and performance, which is comparable with any smartphone on the international market. In its first 12 months alone, Xiaomi sold 3 million phones, about two-thirds of which were shipped through its own ecommerce site.
Xiaomi’s focus is such that Lei has even said that the company has no plans to make a tablet. He recently told TechInAsia that Apple already has too much of a lock on the tablet market. That comment would suggest Xiaomi sees a clear market opportunity for an Apple TV-like product in China.
Online video is more important to China than it is to the US, because China’s terrestrial television is quality deficient and dominated by state-sanctioned broadcasting. Online video sites such as Youku Tudou, Baidu’s iQiyi, and Sohu not only broadcast quality American shows, but they also produce their own original content. So linking that online experience to the TV set is an attractive proposition for China’s still-growing and fast-evolving media market.
Internet-enabled TV is a relatively recent phenomenon in China, but Tencent earlier this released one of its most intriguing products, the iCESCREEN, an app-centric flatscreen TV that will indirectly compete with Xiaomi’s TV product.
The price for the Xiaomi TV hasn’t yet been announced, but rumors have suggested a price as low as $47 up to $80. The box reportedly will support Apple’s AirPlay.