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Interview: Xiaomi's John Chen discusses the company's expansion plans and more

Xiaomi, a Chinese electronics company best known for its budget phones with flagship specs and performance, recently announced its plan to expand beyond smartphones and invest in AIoT, a technology segment that combines artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things. This week, the company also turned Redmi into a standalone brand and unveiled the first smartphone under that sub-brand: the Redmi Note 7.

Neowin got a chance to reach out to Xiaomi’s Regional Director for Southeast Asia, John Chen, who shared the company's expansion plans. Chen also revisited Xiaomi's strategies which helped to drive the company's success in the mobile device segment.

Jay: Xiaomi started as an e-commerce company, and now it has brick-and-mortar stores across many countries. Is the company seeing more success through online channels or do physical stores contribute more to its sales?

John: Online and offline channels are equally important in driving Xiaomi’s sales globally. E-commerce platforms help us reach more people all over the world. In the Philippines in particular, we were able to become the best-selling smartphone brand on both 11.11 and 12.12 sales events of Lazada and Shopee in 2018 (conducted during November 11 and December 12, 2018). On the other hand, brick-and-mortar stores help us provide a deeper customer experience. In Shenzhen, China, for example, our flagship Mi Store enables customers to experience how Xiaomi can give them a smart and connected lifestyle through its various products. Meanwhile, in India, we opened 500 stores all at once, setting a new Guinness World Record in the process, in an effort to bring the Xiaomi experience even to rural customers. In addition, Mi store openings in the Philippines drew long lines of people interested to learn about Xiaomi.

Jay: What are your plans in terms of expansion in the Philippines? Of course, Xiaomi recently opened as many as 500 stores in India. Do you also plan to launch several Mi stores in the country and in other parts of Asia?

John: Yes, Xiaomi is working on opening more retail stores across Asia and making its products more accessible to more people.

Jay: What future investments does the company plan on making?

John: We will expand our mobile and IoT line-up, enter more markets, and make innovation accessible for all.

Jay: While Xiaomi is best known for its smartphone products, the company also offers other electronic devices. How are these faring against the competition?

John: Xiaomi’s Mi Ecosystem products (smart home devices), such as the power banks and fitness bands, have become very popular among consumers and are helping drive the company’s success. We are looking forward to more success especially for our smart home products as Xiaomi has recently forged a partnership with global furniture retailer IKEA to connect their full range of smart lighting products to our IoT platform. A pioneer in AI and IoT, Xiaomi IoT platform has connected more than 132 million smart devices (excluding mobile phones and laptops), and has more than 20 million daily active devices in more than 200 countries and regions around the world, as of September 30, 2018.

Jay: Chinese companies such as Huawei and ZTE are facing tough challenges abroad as the U.S. is ramping up efforts to ban the sale of their technology in the West. Any thoughts from your end, since Xiaomi is also based in China?

John: The U.S. is a very attractive market. We kicked off our first Mi Fan event in the U.S. on December 8, 2018, entertaining hundreds of Mi Fans in New York City’s trendy SoHo district. We’ll keep everyone informed once we have any specific timelines to share.

Jay: Xiaomi is the fourth largest smartphone company in the world at present. What mainly contributes to this success?

John: Xiaomi has remained committed to our mission to relentlessly build amazing products with honest prices. In the third quarter of 2018, we successfully built on Xiaomi’s impressive heritage, opening up several new avenues on our journey to achieve significant breakthroughs. The strategies to which Xiaomi adheres, such as strengthening the performance of the high-end market, accelerating the development of new retail channels and focusing on AI development and application, all yielded remarkable results during the reporting period. Furthermore, Xiaomi’s new high-potential businesses, including the monetization of internet services apart from smartphones in China, the globalization of our IoT products and our entrance into the white goods market, have all showed promising beginnings.

Jay: Does Xiaomi see itself ahead of the competition three or five years from now?

John: Xiaomi today is already the world’s fourth-largest smartphone manufacturer and the biggest IoT platform globally. We will continue to build amazing products with honest prices to let everyone in the world enjoy a better life through innovative technology.

Since dual-screen devices seem to be the next big thing in the smartphone race - with Samsung and Vivo having already announced their respective bets - we also asked Chen whether Xiaomi plans to hop on the bandwagon. While he didn't confirm whether a dual-screen Xiaomi phone is in the offing, Chen expressed optimism about that possibility.

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