THIS WEEK has seen perhaps the last two tech giants from China announce their plans for the UK.
Oppo makes a wide range of electronics, but it was the phone division that launched its first wares at an event in Milan.
Meanwhile, Xiaomi kept it real with a London event, and a mass rollout of products, a retail store and more, with a global phone launch at the heart, in accordance with its business strategy, which was laid bare to attendees.
Oppo and Xiaomi join the likes of Huawei, Honor, OnePlus, HiSense and Lenovo (oh, alright, and ZTE) as Chinese brands that have infiltrated our shores, each changing the dynamic as they do so.
Oppo, for now, isn’t much of a threat to the competition. Its RX17 range has no definite release date in the UK, and if we’re honest, the phones themselves are fairly average.
But make no mistake – its ambitions for London are clear. In 2019 it will open a ‘Design Centre’ in the city, and is already linking itself to Central St Martins, looking for the next clutch of handset designers.
They’re not the first. Huawei has facilities at North Greenwich, close to The O2. OnePlus has a vibrant user community and Xiaomi prides itself on similar ‘for the fans’ mentality.
And in fact, it’s Xiaomi, a giant in its home country, that will have left rivals sweating nervously, for it didn’t just launch in the UK, it declared a bloodless coup.
As the company explained during the launch event, from its beginnings, it has grown to make everything from earbuds to set top boxes, all with a distinct design language, borrowed in part from Apple.
The careful semiotics of Xiaomi, with its orange ‘Mi’ logo and minimalist white packaging, are all about buy-in from consumers. The products look slick. The products match. The products work together.
But more than that, Xiaomi’s pricing is set to be (and we use the word advisedly) distruptive.
Company policy is to charge “fair” prices. And that means aggressive. The business model is to only ever take five per cent in profits. If it makes too much, it lowers the price.
As a result, some of the products unveiled yesterday (and there were a lot) had borderline silly prices that can’t help but affect the game already in progress.
Fitness bands for under thirty quid? A flagship phone for under £500? Power Banks for under £20? This is the type of pricing that we’ve only seen up to now from no-name imported products, applied to a major global brand that happens to run its business like Ikea.
Not only that, but there’s no Design Centre here – Xiaomi’s bricks and mortar has gone straight into retail with a dedicated shopping portal for the UK, and a physical Mi store at Westfield White City.
We left the launch feeling like something had just shifted in the market. This wasn’t a one product launch. Xiaomi is bringing smart kettles, electric scooters, air purifiers, laptops and of course phones to these shores, all designed around a careful, joined up ecosystem and all priced better than a Closeout sale at Maplin (not difficult, that).
It won’t happen overnight, of course. For a start, just as Huawei struggled to get locals to pronounce its brand correctly, now too, so does Xiaomi – you say it ‘JOW-me’.
It does put people off when they don’t recognise and can’t say the brand, and so the next year or so will require Xiaomi to absolutely hammer the brand awareness.
But once it does, its aggressive pricing, cultish fanbase, and ecosystem buy-in will make it difficult for Xiaomi to fail here. At a time when everyone could use a few more quids in their pocket, the likes of the Mi8 Pro, a phone that compares favourably to the OnePlus 6T, but also only lacks a few of the features of the Huawei Mate 20, will be hard to resist.
Make no mistake. Xiaomi is a multi-billion dollar company with massive resources to call upon. It has already signed carriage deals with some of the biggest names in retail – Three, Amazon (of course), Argos and John Lewis. This isn’t another phone launch. This is a friendly invasion.
What remains undeniable though is the massive impact we’ve seen Chinese brands have in the last few years, and with that comes some cultural adjustment, and the obvious questions – whose market share will they take from? Are their products secure? Have the English versions been successfully translated for the market, or are there bugs and poor language syntax? And do we even care?
Think back even just five years and Huawei was a brand that existed largely under the consumer radar, white labelling consumer products through phone carriers. Now, they’re one of the biggest brands in the UK.
We’d expect the same trajectory for Xiaomi. It feels like a genie is out of the bottle, and maybe, just maybe, our wish will come true it’ll drag some rivals prices down with it. μ
Source : Inquirer