It might mean ‘little bit’ in Spanish, but Poco, the new sub-brand from Xiaomi for affordable flagship smartphones launched first in India, clearly has global ambitions. Given the pricing and specifications, the Poco F1 might end up shaking up the market in a big way.
The Poco F1 has been aggressively priced, offering top-of-the-line specifications for a starting price of Rs 20,999 (around $300) and a price of Rs 29,999 ($430) for the top-end one. This makes it far cheaper than the OnePlus 6, which has come to dominate the segment starting at $300 in India.
But why did Xiaomi launch Poco, and not just go for a Mi-branded phone with similar specifications and pricing? We spoke to the key members of the Poco team for some answers.
Why Poco in the first place?
Alvin Tse, head of Poco Global, explained to indianexpress.com that with Poco they don’t have any baggage. “We don’t need to follow any of Xiaomi’s or Redmi’s legacy, we can actually think critically independently and come up with something that we think will solve the market issue,” he says.
He also said that the name Poco was chosen because it is “easy to pronounce, easy to spell, easy to remember, for all countries for across the world.” An important factor for an upcoming brand, especially considering that many mispronounce Xiaomi (pronounced as Shao-mi), even in India.
“We are a very small team within Xiaomi. Yes, Poco is a sub-brand by Xiaomi, but we have the resources of the company to back us up with supply chain service and quality. We think it’s a very cool arrangement that allows us to build something very awesome,” says Tse. But he admits that starting something new does come with risks.
Poco’s global product head Jai Mani, who was earlier head of product at Xiaomi, points out that with the F1, they are trying to solve what the company perceived as a product issue. “There are two problems. One is you have flagship phones that you know, they don’t seem that exciting anymore each year… and at the same time, you know, they’ve passed the $1,000 price mark,” he tells us.
With Poco, Mani claims the team wanted to do something different.
“It was just so much easier to start from scratch…we can make a phone with Snapdragon 845, a 4000 mAh battery, liquid cooling at an absurd price. And we made a bunch of other choices that I think are quite different, you know, like in the materials, etc,” he adds.
In fact, the Poco F1, despite the high-end specifications, does not sport a glass or metal body. Poco’s product team took a conscious decision to go with plastic polycarbonate body, though there’s a more premium Kevlar fiber body variant as well. Still, the lack of a metal or plastic body can promote the perception that it’s a ‘cheap’ product.
According to Mani, there are multiple reasons for going with a polycarbonate body, one being that it is easier to manufacture than say 3D glass. However, for the skeptics, he says the company has a Kevlar Armoured edition no other phone offers in the market.
But Mani also makes it clear that the Poco F1 is not a rebranded Xiaomi device. He insists there’s no other device like this in the Xiaomi portfolio.
Poco F1 and that price
Poco might be not be a Mi or Redmi phone, but it has certainly taken from the company’s philosophy of offering quality on-paper specifications at an affordable price. In fact, its price is the biggest talking point of this phone, which makes it a more serious threat to established players OnePlus or even Oppo and Vivo, who have traditionally launched more phones in this price band.
According to Mani, one of the challenges for the company was to hit the aggressive pricing of Rs 20,000.
“We knew that it would be something different and that would generate a lot of interest… I think the majority of people who are going to buy this phone ultimately are people who love the Redmi Note 3 or Redmi Note 4, and there’s millions of those people,” he says.
So Xiaomi and Poco will clearly be hoping that the user in the Rs 15,000 segment who upgrades in 2018 will pick the F1. Yes it costs more, but not so much more, like the OnePlus 6 or the Asus Zenfone 5Z, both of which have a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor.
According to Tse, there was a lot of discussion around the price as well. “We had a lot of internal debate, especially with the recent currency fluctuation, which, you know, basically drove all the brands crazy. In such a scenario pricing a phone aggressively, makes it even more difficult. But we stuck with it,” he says.
While the global pricing for the phone has not been announced, the expectation is that Poco will price it aggressively.
Poco powered by Xiaomi
Poco might be a sub-brand, but it will clearly rely on Xiaomi’s resources to boost distribution, sales, and even after-sales. Poco F1 phones will be sold via Mi.com in India, and the company will use Xiaomi’s service centres as well.
According to Mani, Xiaomi’s six factories give them a considerable advantage when it comes to production in India. The phone will be made in India as well.
So does this mean Poco won’t go out of stock when it finally goes on sale on August 29? It’s something Xiaomi phones are criticised for a lot: that its phones are out-of-stock within seconds of being put up for sale.
There’s no clarity on that, though Poco India’s General Manager Manmohan Chandolu points out that for the last couple of sales, Xiaomi has been bringing more than 250,000 units of each device, which is a very high number.
“Still we are going out of stock. That’s where we will leverage Xiaomi’s ecosystem. We are running some numbers based on sale and we are looking at never seen before volumes on sale for Poco,” he adds.
For now, nobody in the Poco team is ready to commit on the number of units which will be up for grabs when F1 goes on sale, though they insist the “forecasts are very, very aggressive.”
Of course, the above Rs 20,000 segment in India is a very different market, compared to under Rs 15,000. It is not the one driving volumes unlike the budget phones. As Poco views it, they are not grabbing a share of the pie. Rather they are hoping to make the pie bigger.