A few months ago, I wrote a piece about a PR approach many Chinese smartphone companies have taken: openly challenging Apple, while secretly fighting their domestic competitors. This strategy allows them to capitalize on nationalist sentiment and Apple’s brand recognition to grab some press coverage and raise their profile while they work behind the scenes on going after their true opponents: their domestic competitors.
At the time, LeTV’s Apple-focused smartphone launch event seemed like a good example: here was a company that was outwardly challenging Apple, but was actually likely to be more closely competing with Xiaomi.
But in the months since, the battle between Xiaomi and LeTV has gone from a mostly-behind-the-scenes struggle to a very public war of words that has been dominating headlines in the Chinese tech press. Most recently, Xiaomi VP Wang Chuan posed challenging questions to LeTV, alleging (among other things) that its smart TVs may be illegal, making headlines in the process. Then LeTV responded to those questions, accusing Xiaomi of having ulterior motives and misleading the public, bringing the spat into the headlines again. Now, Xiaomi has responded to those responses, making headlines for a third time.
Even a cursory glance at the arguments – which I’ll not translate here – shows that both sides are deep in the mud, aiming squarely at straw men and playing up the other side as purely self-interested. The truth, of course, is that both companies are self-interested, and in an ugly spat like this, nobody wins. Sina Tech is conducting an ongoing poll of its readers about who they think is winning the fight, and so far neither company has cracked 50 percent. As of this writing LeTV has a slight lead (40 percent to Xiaomi’s 30 percent), but the other 30 percent of respondents say they’re just enjoying the drama or they don’t support either company.