On May 8, 2020, Xiaomi India MD Manu Kumar Jain launched the company’s Mi 10 5G flagship via a virtual event. The Chinese tech giant considers the Mi 10 the crème de la crème of Android smartphones with its stunning OLED display, 108MP camera, Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 865 chipset and fast charging. While the specs and features were largely known, it was the Mi 10’s Rs 49,999 price tag that garnered a lot of attention. And that’s just the base price for the new Mi 10, which could cost you as much as Rs 54,999 fully-loaded. With the launch of Mi 10, Xiaomi officially re-enters India’s high-end smartphone market, where it will compete with Apple, Samsung and OnePlus.
For a brand that is famous for its budget Redmi series, Xiaomi’s gradual shift to the premium segment in its most successful international market was long expected. Xiaomi had been trying to get into India’s high-end smartphone market for quite some time, though it never got real success. Its last flagship phone was the Mi Mix 2, which made its debut in 2017.
“The switch to the premium segment is not a huge challenge for Xiaomi in India,” said Rajeev Nair, Senior analyst at Strategy Analytics. “The brand [Xiaomi] attracts a lot of online audiences and these audiences are slowly graduating to the next level.”
While it’s true Xiaomi wasn’t able to resonate with premium smartphone buyers with its past devices, a lot has changed since 2017. The market for high-end smartphones, especially above Rs 30,000, has grown significantly in a short time in India. The rise of OnePlus as well as the runaway success of iPhone XR and iPhone 11 shows that consumers are willing to pay for phones if they offer real value. Secondly, Xiaomi is now a household name in India, thanks to the popularity of the Redmi Note series, Mi TVs and Mi Air Purifiers. In fact, in the mobile phone space, Xiaomi is the leading smartphone maker with a 30 per cent market, according to Hong Kong-based market research firm Counterpoint.
The growth in the premium segment and brand familiarly are likely to be the two key factors behind Xiaomi’s decision to be back in the high-end segment in India. With Redmi and Poco now separate brands, Xiaomi can fully concentrate on marketing itself as a premium player and not just another budget smartphone maker with its Mi-branded phones. But somewhere Xiaomi knows the company has a strong brand image that appeals to the masses and it’s not easy to break it overnight.
“It’s not realistic to expect that Xiaomi will make a huge dent in the premium smartphone market with the Mi 10,” Nair said, adding that the Redmi series will continue to drive the volumes in 2020. He, however, did add that the Mi 10 could be Xiaomi’s play in the long run.
Strategically, Xiaomi can gain a lot even by having a mere presence in the high-end segment. Shobhit Srivastava, research analyst at Counterpoint, says if Xiaomi gets its act right it can succeed in the segment which helped OnePlus make a name for itself. “There is going to be a gap in the market which OnePlus leaves, not today, but in some time, and that needs to be taken care of,” he said. The recent launch of the OnePlus 8 series shows that OnePlus is moving beyond the “affordable premium smartphone” segment. Both OnePlus 8 and OnePlus 8 Pro cost more than OnePlus 7T or 6T, removing its biggest competitive advantage over Apple and Samsung.
Counterpoint’s Srivastava agreed, saying there’s a less chance of Mi 10 getting significant sales numbers. He says consumers in the high-end segment look for a premium brand name and that’s where Xiaomi’s appeal loses in comparison to established names like OnePlus, Apple and Samsung.
“You cannot say Xiaomi is not willing to experiment, they have been experimenting with the Poco F1 and K20 Pro. I think the Mi 10 and K20 Pro are all part of the same experiment. Xiaomi is getting good results but the problem is the brand image,” Srivastava adds.
Many believe Xiaomi’s decision to re-enter India’s flagship smartphone with the Mi 10 is ill-timed because consumers are looking to save money amid the economic challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic. This also applies to every flagship smartphone expected to release in the coming days.
“We have two views within Counterpoint on this. People in the premium segment have money and the economic crisis won’t affect them much. But then there are people who are going to push their wallets and say, Okay, I’m upgrading my phone from Rs 20,000, what is my upper limit,” Srivastava explains. He further added that the smartphone market will be hit by the coronavirus pandemic, though the impact on the premium segment will be minimal.