Xiaomi CEO: No plans to shift away from Android

SAN FRANCISCO--Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi has no plans to move away from Android as its smartphone operating system, said company founder and CEO Lei Jun.

xiaomi Lei Jun

Lei Jun

During a keynote discussion here at the GMIC conference, Lei explained that Xiaomi has built a customized user interface on top of Android, and that the strategy has proven successful for the company. When asked whether Xiaomi would build its own operating system, Lei said the company planned to continue using Android and would not build its own smartphone platform.

The news is notable as other Android smartphone makers have made movements away from the platform. Samsung Electronics, the world's largest Android smartphone company, is planning to soon release phones running the open-source Tizen operating system. And HTC, another Android supporter, has been rumored to be building its own smartphone operating system to power its phones sold in China.

In additional comments here at GMIC, Lei said he plans to expand Xiaomi to additional markets beyond China--but he declined to name those markets. As for the United States specifically, Lei said that the company would enter the U.S. market when the company was ready.

Xiaomi, already a growing player in the Chinese market, shot to prominence in August when the company hired Hugo Barra, Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) former vice president of Android product management, as a vice president in charge of Xiaomi's international expansion. Barra, who also participated in Xiaomi's appearance here, explained that he joined the company largely because Xiaomi takes the same approach to hardware innovation as Google does to software innovation: "We design as we build," he said.

Specifically, Barra said that Xiaomi constantly tweaks the design of its phones. He said that the company each week solicits advice and suggestions from its users, and will work to incorporate those suggestions into its designs. The means, Barra explained, that the company can add new hardware features into its phones on a weekly basis. He said each week's batch of devices is unique.

"Every new batch that comes out is incrementally better," Barra said. Xiaomi last week said it sold the first batch of 100,000 MiPhone 3 (Mi-3) smartphones in 83 seconds online.

And that, Lei said through a translator, is the business model the company plans to take globally. He said the company closely researches each new potential market to ensure the market can support the ecommerce and social media usage Xiaomi relies on for its feedback-driven design.

"The first thing we do in a new market is to create that user feedback loop," Barra said, adding: "We haven't decided which markets we will enter next."

"We would like to customize the product for each market," Lei said.

According to ABI Research, Xiaomi was the world's 13th largest mobile phone maker in the second quarter, just ahead of Google's Motorola Mobile unit. ABI reported that Xiaomi sold 3.8 million smartphones in the second quarter, 80 percent of which were sold through online channels, thus saving Xiaomi money on retail locations. ABI noted that Xiaomi's Mi 2 handset sold over 7 million units in the first half of this year, beating out Samsung's Galaxy S4 and Apple's iPhone.

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