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This is how Xiaomi wants to eventually win the U.S. market

Smartphone nerds are universally familiar with the name Xiaomi, though few in the U.S. have ever held one of its phones. The brand is explosively popular in many other countries in the world, most recently experiencing growth in India and Spain, but you can't buy a single Redmi or Mi Mix phone from an American retailer yet.

After the recent and spectacular failures of Huawei and ZTE in the U.S., it's not difficult to understand why the company is cautiously planning its Stateside launch strategy. But even in the face of those events, Xiaomi remains convinced it will start selling hardware to Americans within the next year or so. To make this work, its plan is to sit back and learn as much as it can about this new market and then approach it like the giant it is.

When sitting down with Xiaomi at Google I/O 2018, just after Google announced the Android P developer preview was coming to the Mi Mix 2S, we asked John Chan, Product PR Manager at Xiaomi, about the future of the company's U.S. plans — and we were as blunt as possible. The answer wasn't particularly surprising, either.

Our path [to the U.S.] is getting into the carriers. Traditionally, the only brand with some kind of success outside of carriers in the U.S. is OnePlus, and it's still catered to a very small market of users. People who do their research and have heard of it. We want to bring in our full range, even the Redmi series. We just have to figure out how to get in with U.S. carriers.

Xiaomi doesn't want to compete with Motorola or OnePlus or HTC — it wants to compete directly with Apple and Samsung. That works two ways here: you either spend a lot of money on advertising everywhere, or you exist on shelves next to the iPhone and Galaxy phones.

Xiaomi wants to be next to devices like the Galaxy S9 and iPhone X on store shelves in the U.S. And that's really, really hard.

Spending money on advertising largely goes against the Xiaomi business model. It has publicly vowed, on multiple occasions, to never make more than 5% profit on any device it sells, which means marketing budgets are never going to be massive.

Instead, the company wants its phones to be in stores where people can touch them. The logic here is simple: when someone sees a phone that looks and feels as nice as a Galaxy S9 but is several hundred dollars cheaper, they're going to ask about it. That only happens when you're on the shelf next to these other manufacturers.

Carrier support may seem obvious, but it's also incredibly challenging. Google's Pixel phones are a prime example — excellent phones with only Verizon and Project Fi support, with mediocre sales numbers despite massive country-wide marketing campaigns. People who see these phones love them, but with support from a single carrier it's unlikely that support is going to grow wildly beyond what exists right now.

Based on Xiaomi's UK entrance, which included multiple phones on only a single carrier, it seems unlikely we'll see a big splashy entrance onto all four U.S. carriers at once. Negotiating these deals so every carrier offers these phones simultaneously is going to be hard, especially if Xiaomi expects budget phones like the Redmi line and its flagship Mi Mix experiences to exist on the same shelf. Carriers are cutting the number of phone models they sell, not expanding.

Will we see Xiaomi make a grand entrance into the U.S. within the next year? I think it seems likely.

More than simply talking to carriers, Xiaomi has made a real effort to ensure its Global ROMs are ready for U.S. users. The way people use their phones in China, where Xiaomi is king, is remarkably different from how we use our phones here.

Xiaomi has already learned these lessons when selling phones in India, where its selfie "enhancing" features upset early users by doing things like removing facial jewelry and causing smearing effects on facial hair. The MIUI software, in particular the way notifications and app shortcuts are handled, needs to be catered to the way U.S. users expect Android phones to behave. Xiaomi says it is up to the challenge, and our continued look at how MIUI Global ROMs have evolved over the last year seems to suggest the company is at the very least headed in the right direction.

Xiaomi understands that software experiences are important for U.S. smartphone customers, which means catering MIUI to a western audience.

Will we see Xiaomi make a grand entrance into the U.S. within the next year? Maybe.

The company has already started selling non-cellular hardware like cameras and scooters to U.S. consumers on Amazon, and its collaboration with Facebook to make the Oculus Go headset has so far been quite successful.

By the end of the calendar year, Xiaomi will likely be a much more common name to small groups of U.S. consumers. If it can secure deals with carriers, and those deals don't go up in flames like we saw with Huawei, there's a good chance we'll see the next flagship from Xiaomi on shelves next year. For those of us who have held these phones before, that is going to be an exciting splash in what would otherwise be a fairly stagnant pond.

These are the top Xiaomi phones you can buy in 2018

Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter

34 Comments
  • Google certified devices.
    Compatible with Verizon.
  • I just want the Mi Max 3 on T-Mobile
  • Agreed
  • YES!!! IF Xiaomi comes out with the rumored bezel-less 7-inch #MiMax3 on T-Mobile, I'll buy. Bonus points IF it's an #AndroidOne. Triple points IF it gets Nexus/Pixel like updates.
  • As always, the more competition, the better...
  • Drop the dreaded MIUI and go close to stock Android or something light, similar to OnePlus.
  • Completely agree
  • Screw the crappy carriers, sell via Amazon.
  • I don't mind this if they make it compatible with all the US carriers.
  • Android One, please. Enough with the phones that never get updates.
  • I wouldn't mind this at all. Make it similar to Nokia.
  • I prefer stock Android, but as long as ROMs are available I'll be happy. And it MUST be available carrier-unlocked.
  • Exactly, I agree.
  • Ditch the abominable MIUI
  • And then the government steps in and quickly stops it
  • I have both mi Max and mi Max 2 and love them both.
  • US is a ****** phone market with carriers holding so much sway over the manufactures.
    It's going to be extremely hard for Xiaomi to get into the market here even with low cost phones. Let's hope they don't do another "Huawei" on Xiaomi
  • Ditch Mi UI to go Android or OnePlus route and Xiaomi just might have a shot in the US market.
  • garabage touch wiz is selling good, so why not this. people who complain never used it lol.
  • That's maybe true. But the main reason people choose something else is nearly always the UI.
    MIUI might be great (I've never tried it) but you need Samsung levels of hardware to sell a phone with a crap UI.
  • Xaomi is already sold through Amazon, as that is where I purchased my Mi Mix 2. The primary problem is the carriers. I had to use my Nexus 6P's SIM card to get it to work on Verizon because it isn't a Verizon certified device. As far as MIUI is concerned, I loaded the Google launcher and set it as the default, which has erased my main complaint with the system. So far I'm impressed with the amount of updates and software support Xaomi provides.
  • In North America, reality is that Samsung and Apple capture 78% of all smartphone sales. That means there just isn't a lot of room in the market for carriers to stock marginal brands. LG has 10% of the North American market, and all other brands fight over the remaining 12%. I understand some brands have multiple models... But my carrier, Bell Canada, does offer 43 different phone choices. Competition is fierce for the 22% of smartphones not sold by Samsung or Apple. Carriers do hold significant power, and so brands wanting to enter North America will have to yield serious concessions..... Perhaps agreeing to buy back unsold stock.
  • imagine have to buy a car from only to companies? mi mix in store will wow the customers and they will choose it over samsung in few years.
  • I'm in the United States typing this on a MI Mix 2. This seems like an attempt for Xiaomi to dip its toes in the US market since it is fully compatible with LTE here and available on Amazon. After hearing MIUI badmouthed for years I have to admit that I am actually pleasantly surprised by the Global MIUI ROM. It's very fast and stable, the menus are easy to navigate and the theming feature is nice.. Notifications look the same as they do in stock Android. Honestly I'll take this over the "faux stock" of the One Plus operating system Oxygen any day of the week. For a little over $400 this is a pretty amazing phone.
  • MIUI is not bad at all, all the prejudices for it mostly come from who never really use it. It has a lot useful function, smooth and their theme store is overlooked by most of none-users.
  • Please forgive me... I have no idea... Do phones not issued through mobile carriers receive monthly security patches? I'd guess yes... Because I don't think monthly security patches need an ok from carriers... That's only required for OS updates. Enjoy your phone... Apologize to nobody... Not everyone needs a highest end smartphone. (In my case, it's my only online device... So I don't compromise).
  • Yes, unlocked phones receive security updates. Of course, it depends on the OEM as to how often you receive them.
  • Never tried MIUI so can't challenge your claim but I've been really impressed with Oxygen.
    Just about the best UI I've used including Pixel.
    What didn't you like about it?
    Why is MIUI better?
  • Xiaomi needs to add more US bands.
  • Please bring us these phones!!! Even with MIUI, you can always use a launcher. I'm with others here, bring us some choice T-Mobile!
  • They need to sell through carriers. That's the real way into people's hands. Most people go through carriers. I'm one of them. If they sell through Amazon, it won't give REAL brand recognition. Which is what Xiaomi, Huawei, etc. Need to be successful in the US.
  • Been using a xiami 5 on att for the last 2 yrs - have Chinese rom with Google side loaded, works great. Don't need all that extra Google bloat apps just the bare bones. This year it now supports 4g as well. Bought the phone directly from Xiaomi in China
  • i hate tmobile and att store employees. they sound like dumb robots who only know iphone or samsung lol.
  • Had 2 Xiaomis and never receive any Android updates, only MIUI updates. Never again.