Chinese smartphone giant Xiaomi has had some ups and downs over the last few years, but it’s been all positive movement recently. The company just announced that the latest Canalys market report shows that it has passed Apple to become the second-largest smartphone maker in the world. That leaves Samsung to battle Xiaomi for the top spot. Based on the company’s impressive growth rate, it may only be a matter of time before it overtakes Samsung as well.
If you live in the US, you probably don’t spend much time thinking about Xiaomi. It doesn’t sell phones at all in the US or Canada. Even if you import a Xiaomi phone, it won’t have the right cellular bands to work as intended. However, it’s hugely popular in markets like India, Europe, and yes, its native China.
According to a company-wide message from CEO Lei Jun, Xiaomi has been on a tear. Its sales were up 83 percent year-over-year in the last quarter, which was just enough to edge past Apple, but that’s not because Apple lost ground. On the contrary, Apple’s smartphone business grew one percent. Xiaomi currently sits at 17 percent of the smartphone market to Samsung’s 19 percent. This is roughly where Huawei was a few short years ago. The US trade ban has hobbled that company by cutting off its access to Google services and new chip architectures.
This is even more impressive when you consider the problems the company had as its sales ballooned in the mid-2010s. In 2014, Xiaomi hit the number three spot, but it was overextended and saw its market share drop for the next two years, eventually pushing it out of the top five smartphone OEMs. Since 2016, it has refocused on the products and markets where it does best, and the proof is in the pudding.
Xiaomi has managed this feat without any presence in the US. While it’s not the biggest smartphone market in the world, it is the most profitable. Even if all Xiaomi cared about was beating Samsung, a modest expansion into the US could push Xiaomi into the top spot, but you only get one chance to do that right. Xiaomi pushes the envelope with hardware, but its take on Android, called MIUI, is more heavily modified than even Samsung’s phones. MIUI might turn some US consumers off even if Xiaomi’s hardware is great (it usually is). And with the increasing government scrutiny of Chinese tech firms, there’s no guarantee Xiaomi will want to take the risk. Huawei tried to muscle into the US smartphone market, and look what happened.
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