Xiaomi’s Hugo Barra on the Redmi, Mi3 and future smartphone plans

In case you haven’t heard, Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi is officially in Singapore with the launch of the Redmi Android smartphone. As we reported last week, the company has generated a fair amount of buzz in recent years with its high-end Android smartphones with at rock bottom prices.

Its devices are currently sold in China, Hong Kong and more recently, in Taiwan. Its entrance into Singapore is the first step of its play to foray into the larger international market.

The Redmi smartphone

Priced at SG$169, the Redmi is essentially an entry-level smartphone with a 4.7-inch IPS display with a resolution of 1280 x 720 (312 ppi) and fronted with Gorilla Glass 2. A quad-core MediaTek 1.5GHz processor keep things rather snappy under the hood.

This is no 4G LTE phone, though it does come equipped with dual SIM capability: A WCDMA slot for 3G data and a GSM slot for 2G voice/data. Unlike most other smartphones these days, the Redmi comes with a removable 2,000 mAh lithium-ion battery, with additional batteries and charger available at very low price of SG$9.99 for each.

Xiaomi passed us a Redmi smartphone last week, and we intend to talk about some of its features in a later post. If you’re eager for a full review of the Xiaomi Redmi, Stuff Singapore has put together one here.

From Google to Xiaomi

We had the opportunity to meet with the vice president of Xiaomi Global, Hugo Barra, who met with us last week. Barra formerly served at Google as the vice president of product management for the Android platform, and joined Xiaomi in August 2013 to help the company grow internationally.

In our exclusive session with him, Barra walked us through the many features of the company’s MIUI (pronounced “Me You I”) Android implementation that is not found in a stock Android device. Unlike many company executives, Barra was forthright in his responses and candid about the plans and future directions of the company.

So how do you make money?

At the low price of just $169, one is wonders how Xiaomi makes money from its smartphone, given its rather reasonable hardware specifications. When quizzed, Barra ticked off several avenues, such as services, accessories and the smartphone itself. For services, this include the custom themes sold via its Theme shop, as well as additional storage on the mi Cloud storage , among others.

Of course, that’s not all there is to it. Barra says the company also works aggressively to reduce its cost such as by cutting marketing costs by adopting direct sales (There are plans to eventual push the phones out via the local Telcos too). Indeed, Barra shared that he was one half of the engineering team that was in Singapore earlier for the various qualification tests needed for approval in Singapore.

Availability of the Mi3 and future devices

With sales of the Redmi scheduled to start this Friday here, does the company plan to bring in other units such as the top-end Mi3 smartphone? And was it a conscious decision to launch the Redmi first?

According to Barra, the launching of the Redmi was really because the Redmi got approved first. (This could be due to the fact that it only requires more straightforward 3G/2G testing). On this front, he told us that the Mi3 will also be coming to Singapore in the weeks ahead.

Barra also confirmed that new devices have been planned later for the year. Though the company is working on eventually being able to do a simultaneously launch new devices across the various markets that it is in, he admitted that the company is currently “not there yet” in terms of production capability.

Finally, in an ironic twist compared to the strategy of practically every smartphone maker out there, Barra says Xiaomi will be focusing on Asia as well as emerging markets. This includes Singapore and Malaysia, as well as South America.

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