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Chinese smartphone giant Xiaomi is launching a laptop to compete with Apple’s MacBooks (AAPL)

lei jun steve jobs apple xiaomi side by side ceo

Chinese smartphone giant Xiaomi is taking yet another leaf out of Apple’s book — by launching a laptop.

After previous rumours suggested as much, Taipei Times reports that the chairman of Taiwan hardware company Inventec has confirmed that it is building Xiaomi’s first foray into notebooks.

Richard Lee said that the device is due to start shipping “in the first or second quarter of next year.”

Xiaomi’s growth has been meteoric

In just five years, Xiaomi has come from nowhere to become one of China’s biggest smartphone manufacturers, and one of the most valuable startups in the world. It’s worth $45 billion (£29.4 billion). It sells cheap Android devices with impressive specs in developing countries, along with a fitness trackers and a number of other products.

Jony IveBut along the way it has been criticised in some quarters for its products’ similarities to Apple’s own: Apple design chief Jony Ive once hit out at the company’s designs, labelling them “theft.”

Xiaomi, for its part, denies the claim. But one way the Chinese startup is indisputably similar to Apple is in its astonishing fanbase. It has been referred to as the “Apple of China,” and almost uniquely for an Android device manufacturer, has been able to develop a level of customer loyalty to rival Apple’s own.

They are key to the startup’s rapid growth. The company spends almost nothing on marketing but has enjoyed a meteoric rise through careful cultivation of its following. The company holds flash sales for “Mi-fans,” holds “festivals,” and even throws parties in expensive nightclubs and holds giveaways for its most devoted fans. Immediate sell-outs of new products only add to the excitement.

According to data published in August, Xiaomi was China’s top smartphone firm in China in Q2 2015.

It’s about building an ecosystem

xiaomi mi water purifierXiaomi’s smartphones can also be understood as a kind of Trojan horse for its other products. Its customer base, as well as passionate, is also young. The company is selling water purifiers, televisions, and other products that it hopes its customers will come to buy as they “grow up.” Ben Thompson outlined this in a post on Statechery in January:

What is more interesting, though, is what will happen when [Xiaomi customer] Han and his peers finally do get places of their own. They will need to buy TVs, and air purifiers, and all kinds of (relatively) high [cost] goods. And which brand do you think they will choose? If Apple can sell a battery charger to my coworker, I’m pretty certain Xiaomi can sell an air purifier to Mr. Han, and, sooner rather than later, just about everything he needs for his new house.

Xiaomi’s smartphones are currently priced far below the iPhone price point (in fact, they’re cheaper even than the average price for Androids). Its phones and Apple’s iPhones aren’t necessarily in direct competition right now. But Xiaomi is attempting (and succeeding) to install strong brand loyalty into its young customer base with growing purchasing power — exactly the kind of people who Apple would seek to target in markets like China.

A laptop is another piece of the puzzle

tim cook with new macbookThe forthcoming laptop, then, is another attempt to tie users into the Xiaomi ecosystem. The report from Taipei Times is light on details about the device itself. But a Bloomberg report published earlier in the month said it might be targeting the premium end of the market, citing “people with direct knowledge of the matter.” This puts it on a collision course with Apple: the MacBook Air (as well as Lenovo’s ThinkPad) are cited as potential competitors.

(It’s also worth noting that earlier this week, Xiaomi launched an MVNO — a mobile network. This lets users buy phone contracts directly from the company, again reinforcing the ecosystem and reducing reliance on external companies.)

Xiaomi isn’t in the West — yet

XIAOMI SMARTPHONE MI4 lei jun ceoRight now, Apple is in the midst of an aggressive expansion in China. The Chinese smartphone market may be shrinking, but it’s still the largest on the planet. That makes it vital for Apple (and for all its products, not just iPhones). As such, Xiaomi’s new laptop, if Bloomberg’s sources are right about its “premium” status, puts it in direct competition with the American tech giant.

Xiaomi currently operates in China, India, Brazil, and a number of other developing markets. It says it doesn’t intend to launch in markets like the US for “a few years” at least. Questions have also been raised about the company’s growth after its sales started to flatline this summer — despite launching in new regions. It now looks unlikely to hit its target of 100 million smartphone sales a year.

If and when its products finally land on Western soil, there will be a huge question to be answered: Can it manage to cultivate the same kind of customer following in the West as it has managed back home? If it can — and that’s a big if — that’s when things will get really interesting for Apple.

Join the conversation about this story »

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Source:: Chinese smartphone giant Xiaomi is launching a laptop to compete with Apple’s MacBooks (AAPL)

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