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MIUI is never going to be close to stock Android, and that's a good thing

With over 200 million users, Xiaomi's MIUI is one of the most popular manufacturer skins in the world. Its usage has skyrocketed in recent years as Xiaomi made its foray into the Indian market, where the company has set up an R&D unit to cater to localization needs.

MIUI has come a long way in the last three years, adding a host of new features that augment the core experience. Xiaomi's frenetic pace of development — with a new update rolling out bi-weekly — means that MIUI is always evolving, even if updates don't include any user-facing changes. As a consequence, the user interface has become bloated, and the sheer number of features means that Xiaomi isn't as agile as it used to be when it comes to delivering platform updates.

Too big for its own good

Mi Note 2 multitasking

Making sure its UI works on a new version of Android and ensuring compatibility with all the models in its portfolio takes significant engineering resources. Six months after the introduction of Android 7.0 Nougat, the Mi 5 is the only phone to have picked up the update. Then there's the way MIUI looks. Although we've seen the addition of several new features in MIUI, the core user interface itself hasn't changed all that much over the years. For instance, the multitasking pane still looks like something designed for the KitKat era.

That said, Xiaomi does a great job of delivering the latest MIUI updates to a majority of its phones. MIUI 8 is the latest iteration of Xiaomi's skin, offering an interface with a few visual tweaks, an abundance of solid colors, and a ton of new features. Xiaomi rolled out the update to devices as far back as the Mi 2, which made its debut in 2012.

With so many features baked into MIUI, Xiaomi isn't quick at platform updates anymore.

In this regard, Xiaomi is like Apple. Although its devices aren't on the latest version of Android, with its UI offering its own security-focused features, Xiaomi's priority is to deliver MIUI updates to its range of devices in a timely manner.

My 2014 Mi Pad is still on Android 4.4.4 KitKat, but it has picked up the MIUI 8 update late last year, giving me access to all the new features that Xiaomi has to offer. The three-year old tablet has the same functionality as the more recent Mi 5, which is now running Nougat. There's a reason MIUI updates work this way, and it has to do with Xiaomi's home market.

Giving users what they need

MIUI is used globally, but Xiaomi's main market is China, and as such the user interface is designed with Chinese users in mind. The customizations and added security features — the ability to block individual apps from running in the background, preventing apps from automatically starting at boot — are all borne out of a market where malware is rampant and apps are distributed not through a unified storefront like the Play Store but through multiple app stores.

MIUI is designed for China, a country where malware is rampant.

With no single entity like Google acting as a gatekeeper to weed out malware and other malicious content, the onus is on handset makers like Xiaomi to build in safeguards to ensure that their customers don't fall prey to such apps.

That'll continue to be the case for some time now, and while I'd love to see MIUI's features available on a pure Android interface, that isn't a priority for Xiaomi. Its goal is to ensure that its users aren't falling victim to unruly apps, and in that context, MIUI is doing a great job.

Harish Jonnalagadda
Senior Editor - Asia

Harish Jonnalagadda is a Senior Editor overseeing Asia at Android Central. He leads the site's coverage of Chinese phone brands, contributing to reviews, features, and buying guides. He also writes about storage servers, audio products, and the semiconductor industry. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.

29 Comments
  • MiUi roms always seemed like cheap knock off iPhone clones. Most of the bootle iPhones run MiUi. It's so much of a copy of ios that they only sell the phones in countries that let them get away with it.
  • Whatever one may say, their battery management is better than stock ui and samsung's. Dual apps and password protection to individual apps are good things to have without having to install another bloated app
  • Dude do you even know how expensive iphone is in countries like india . Why should we give a **** if its a copy . And fyi, xiomi phones are the most sought-after phones in india rather than apple and samsung. So pay respect k
  • Really? You're gonna go with that? MIUI isn't bringing iOS to the masses. It copies the UI design but that's basically it. It's like putting a Bugatti Veyron body-modification on a Toyota Yaris; it's still a Toyota. My point is you won't get the iPhone/iOS experience, so why bother buying a phone that looks like it. You won't get the 'premium' experience nor will it be a status symbol because everyone knows it's not an iPhone. So either buy an iPhone or buy an Android device. Don't buy an Android device because it mimics another in order to make you feel like you've bought the real deal. And I don't think anyone needs to 'pay respect' because a single market has some peculiar tendency that does not match the rest of the world (even if that market is big and growing fast).
  • You are so stupid if you assume that people buy their phones due to its ios look like skins. There are so many factors and the skin is the least one considered while buying a xiaomi phone.. Nobody cares about its skin.. You are saying about sthing you don't know..
  • This whole news topic is about the software, not the hardware. If you don't care about the software, that's fine. However, the majority using a site like this do care about the software. So the hardware is not really what we're discussing here. Besides, the one I replied to said "do you know how expensive iPhones are in India". That implies that (s)he can't afford an iPhone and therefore buys a Xiaomi device to get the same experience instead of buying a device with software that follows Google's guidelines. Otherwise why bring it up? If price isn't an issue, then it would be a non-factor. Xiaomi is considerably more affordable than either Apple or Samsung. However, they take their software design cues from Apple. So perhaps you were looking at a mirror when you said "you are so stupid" because quite frankly: that's the more likely scenario given the subject of this article.
  • Dude your logic gives me headache. ok suppose you are Looking at a Harley Davidson bike parked in a showroom . I HOPE YOUR AN Indian. Then just a man on a Bajaj avenger ride past you. Then your logic will be Bajaj avenger bikes are a waste because it copies the looks and design of a Harley. Are you sane?? How do you expect them to be at par atleast not today..
  • Logic gives you a headache? That's interesting.
    The majority of what you just wrote is incomprehensible. I'm not an Indian. I thought that was quite clear. Perhaps you'd be interested to know that selling knock-offs is illegal in many parts of the world.
    In addition to that, Samsung has already been slammed with lawsuits from Apple. That should be telling regarding design language (that pertains to hardware primarily though and Apple is unlikely to go after Xiaomi or any other Chinese OEM given the fact they're not as big as threat right now and any Chinese court would be hostile to Apple)
  • Dont buy it if you don't like . Who care about a ******* iPhones in India :P.. not everyone is a rich fat as boy like you. Of course for a ******* price of 40-60thousands you get a better functional phone. But its negligible when we consider the price at which we get Xiaomi phones which at par specifications at reasonable price. 20K for flagship phones. Bet you wont get a new iphone at that price. So not Everyone pocket is a rich as you fat boy. And about copying you say?? Just because Justin Bieber has a new hair cut doesn't mean that style is only reserved for him right?? So whats wrong if you try get a hair cut like Bieber 😉.. simple as that... Again a hair cut doesn't make you as ******* as someone😎😉 so chill pal
  • I love how I've offended all the Indians considering how you start to throw insults for no apparent reason.
    I'm by no means rich nor am I fat... Isn't it a bit pointless to spew the same vitriol over and over again? This makes no sense whatsoever. What is this even supposed to accomplish? I'm not saying you shouldn't buy a Xiaomi device. I'm saying the skin is terrible and you shouldn't buy it just because it gives off an iOS aesthetic. I'm also saying you shouldn't be satisfied with a subpar user experience. Arguably, given the price point, cutting corners should be expected but Xiaomi can do better. When more and more apps follow Material design guidelines and the OS follows iOS-esque design guidelines you get a completely messy user experience and everything loses cohesiveness. When you mess with core aspects of the underlying OS, you compromise the final product. This is basic stuff really. I don't know how to make this any clearer...
  • Okay, okay, okay. Timeout. Now, I'm an Indian. I have a miui phone (a redmi note 3, the best phone in its price range). I will admit that I currently don't have miui installed on my device as I prefer custom roms (I use resurrection remix). You haven't tried using miui (correct me if I'm wrong). You have no right to call miui terrible or subpar. Sure, it looks (a little) like iOS. That doesn't mean it is iOS. It isn't trying to be. I still miss some features of miui that I wish existed on my custom rom (when the nougat update comes around, I'll probably switch back). It is a wonderful skin with tons of features built in. Material apps don't look any worse in it. I've managed to use most of those features at least once. It is quite fast, very easy to use and looks great. If you are the type to experiment with custom ROMs on your phone, I suggest you try flashing a build of miui on it (builds exist for non xiaomi too). Don't hate on it till you try it.
  • I guess you haven't ever used a Xiaomi @Trixanity1, so you don't know anything about the speed and performance of the MIUI,Though I'm a stock android fan I've used iPhones (Still using iPad) and have also used MI, and by no means I think that MIUI is bad, and the man (Migang) is trying to explain to you that he isn't talking about asthetics, he is talking about features and performance. let me give you an example, My friend uses a MI phone (Redmi 1s, a 90$ phone launched in 2014) which runs on KitKat and still it performs faster than my iPad 3, and it still has features of Marshmallow like managing individual apps permissions, a very good battery life etc. So it has far more value for money than a $750 iPad or iPhone.
  • Wait until you see Vivo / OPPO (OnePlus's sibling company) smartphone and you know what is exactly a carbon copy of iOS rip-off.
  • Actually, no, it's not MIUI. It's a clone of MIUI and iOS mixed together. Hell, I saw some quite convincing iPhone clones that were nearly perfect (would fool someone who does not know every nook and cranny of iOS), and the only tell that it's a fake was that you could put it into an MTK download mode.
  • I don't mind skins with their own design aesthetics. But I will have a problem with it if it actually interferes with basic Android features.
  • "The three-year old [Mi Pad] tablet has the same functionality as the more recent Mi 5, which is now running Nougat." I get that MIUI 8 is consistent with feature availability, but NO. I don't really care for stock looks, but I do care for Google Assistant (if you're on the Global MIUI with the appropriate GP Services,) SIGNIFICANTLY more emoji diversity, Doze, an easier cut and paste system, a new smoother runtime, and better app support. Quite frankly, it's pathetic that it's still on KitKat. At least Samsung and Sony endeavored to get the Galaxy S5 and Xperia Z2 (respectively) up to Marshmallow, Google got the Nexus 6 up to Nougat. They were all released around the same time as the Mi Pad. What possesses Xiaomi to not do the same?
  • There are plenty of Samsung tablets still being sold in the UK coming work KitKat installed. I was looking at one in a local shop only a few days back.
  • I think you are missing the point. A lot of cheaper phones that are not high end flagships have never received anything more than just 1 or maybe 2 Android version upgrade. This is true with all manufacturers, not jist xiaomi. At least with xiaomi, which sells a phone of the same specs as a flagship, for the price of a mid end phone, you would still receive new features. My Redmi Note 3G(oldest redmi note with mtk6592) still have the same features as my newer redmi note 3, while still using kitkat as the base, and it's not even xiaomi's fault, since mediatek doesn't update all their proprietary blobs for lollipop, no mtk6592 have ever received any kind of os upgrade. The only mtk6592 phone that is still receiving security updates and new features, today, after years of EOL by mediatek, is the redmi note 3G.
  • I'll stick with Huawei and EMUI, best there is.
  • Google is also adding features inspired from MIUI......they keep their software updated ....
  • I love miui. I have been using since miui 3 but didn't like miui 3 but from miui 4. My backup phone is running on miui 5.
  • Well, me for one i like Miui since it's got all the features i could want (some that even Android doesn't have - and neither Apple for that matter) and they update their software weekly at least for most recent devices. The eyperience is familiar through all devices and it makes sense they update the thing they control themselves (the skin) and slowly upgrading the base Android underneath. They do much more than other manufacturers who forget about released devices in a year or so. So thank god Xiaomi phones will never have stock Android installed and it would be stupid to do that, since they invested years of incorporating features into their Miui skin and in that regard they are unique. No other manufacturer has managed to have the basicly same experience (software wise) over all of their Android portfolio. Idiotic comments like who's copying whome - are for kids. Everybody is copying. But to copy so that you have a solid looking and reliable device for 1/5 of the price that other manufacturers charge - that's kinda amazing. And to all the Apple/Sammy fans out there who feel the urge to throw comments in here - tough luck - not that i can not afford to spend 1k€ on a phone - i'm not willing to. But i bet it hurts to even think about that a 300€ phone can do basicly everything your 1k€ device can. Choices are the essential part of life:)
  • Sounds like an argument not to buy them in the US. But I'm curious on the actual upgrade schedule of a wider variety of phones. A lot of phones from a lot of manufacturers have slow upgrades or get abandoned quickly. How much worse are they actually.
  • Good article. It's refreshing to read articles that acknowledge that there are people outside of the west that have different tastes and needs, I bought my Mi 5 because I got fed up paying silly money for the latest and greatest. I intended to install CM or some other custom rom as soon as I got it but I thought I would give MIUI a try first, I'm glad I did! I installed the latest MIUI 8 (MM, China rom) and then installed the Google Services pack. Everything just worked! No crashes, no glitches, no reboots, dual-sim worked perfectly (3G+4G which not many phones offered at the time), excellent battery life, a lot of features baked-in so no need to use separate add-sponsored apps, good level of customisations, good security features, and it looks great in my opinion. Dual apps, second space, scanner (inc. photo recognition and lookup that Samsung are touting now) are features that I use regularly now. The permissions manager is excellent also. My phone is so good now that I'm reluctant to even upgrade to the latest Nougat rom let alone upgrade the phone itself. Stock is great and all, and I wish certain features weren't disabled but I think it would be bad if all the brands use stock only. The advantage Android has over iOS is that there are engineers from lots of companies coming up with ideas for new features or to improve usability. The good ones stick and become standard. MIUI is actually very good :)
  • No, that is NOT a good thing. At all.
  • Trixanity... What if ur boss finds a guy with ur efficiency but a little less looking but far lower demanding than you.... (Save ur a.. )
    That's what ios n miui..
    Again stop pointing nationality(i m not indian) smone said that ios costly in india and then u started about indians... That's not a mature brain
    I think u don't have both os.. That's why u r crazy for ios...ios skin is better than miui but not upto its price point.. None pays 100dlrs extra to just get a little better skin..i hv both iphn5s n mi5.. Only point where i get better experience is the music quality of iphone.. Never felt mi5 is lagging to 5s in any other factors
    Again as it's a topic of os skin u r forgetting about the customization u get with the miui which is absent in ios
  • Correction :Mi pad is on miui 7.5 in global version....no miui 8 in sight
  • I think it is fascinating with all those articles making excuses for different design choices, especially those concerning Android redesign. MIUI is not my cup of tea on my Mi Max due to its interface styling going away from Material Design. The features are good but the redesign of the UI isn't my cup of tea. I am not particularly convinced about having Android devices with completely different UIs - a more appropriate approach is a standardized base UX and themes for customization and also apps/launchers for value creation. If complete UI redesign is such a good thing, then the question is: Why not ditch Android and let Google make it an app environment with ART and Play Store paired with OEM exclusive systems...;) I.e. no more Android OS, just proprietary systems with Google Play. Features are fine but I am unable to see any the whole system must be redesigned.... It is like having a lot of different Windows UIs because every computer OEM want to differentiate.;)
  • Differing from stock android is ok fpr for xiaomi but not for Samsung or any other mfg. Most indian tech bloggers are fanbois of xiaomi and Same can be seen clearly from video and articles like this.