The Mi 4i is a special product for Xiaomi in more ways than one. It is the first truly global smartphone developed by the Chinese ‘startup’ but it also marks Xiaomi’s first stab at customizing its software for markets outside of China. The days of Xiaomi just selling exceptional hardware at low prices are over. The Mi 4i is the window to Xiaomi the Internet services company. Also Read - Best laptops under Rs 40,000 in July 2021: Mi Notebook 14, Asus VivoBook 14, and moreAlso Read - Friendship Day gifting ideas for your young tech-savvy besties under Rs 5,000
“This is a project I have been working on for the last 18 months,” Hugo Barra, Xiaomi’s international vice president, said at the global launch event in New Delhi. Also Read - RedmiBook laptop launching on August 3, Mi Notebook-like design and colours teased
It has been under a year since Xiaomi launched in India, yet the brand and Barra, have become icons for the country’s youth. Some traveled from cities hundreds of kilometers away, paying for their own air tickets and waiting for more than three hours in blistering 40 degree Indian summer sun, just to get a glimpse of Barra and the opportunity to touch and feel the Mi 4i for exactly three minutes, but a week before anyone else. They were handed Xiaomi’s trademark orange t-shirts, which they readily wore over their clothes, resulting in the auditorium becoming a sea of orange.
“You are more handsome than the phone,” yelled one of Barra’s fans, when he asked them what they felt about the Mi 4i’s design. Fans shrieked and stood up, when he wanted to click selfies with the audience in the background to demonstrate the Mi 4i’s front-facing camera.
Barra knows the importance of India for Xiaomi. Not only is it the world’s fastest growing smartphone market, but he also sees India as Xiaomi’s base to reach out to the rest of the world from outside China. The smartphone maker is setting up a massive R&D centre in Bangalore that will not only cater to localization of services but would eventually make globally relevant products, Barra had revealed during BGR India’s Dream 500 Million Smartphones event in December.
The R&D center may take some more time to take off, Xiaomi cannot wait and let others steal its thunder. And that’s apparent in the Mi 4i, that includes a few made for India software features, which Xiaomi believes would give it an edge over its rivals.
The first feature is Visual IVR, which would help people save time when they interact with IVR systems. (The automated calling system gives you options to select when you call your bank, carrier and other service providers.) At the launch event, Barra showed how Indian Railways IVR system takes more than a minute just to reach the option where users can find out about status of any train. Xiaomi’s Visual IVR will do that in just seven seconds! It already knows all the options and will punch the right numbers and even add pauses when required to get the user to the option they want.
Xiaomi already has this feature in China and is bringing it to India now. It already has the system in place for a few services but it will also crowdsource assistance from its “community” of “Mi fans” to add more services. And they will do it for free! No other smartphone brand in India enjoys this level of fan following. Not Apple, not Samsung and certainly not Micromax.
With the Mi 4i, Xiaomi also made its MIUI interface available in half-a-dozen Indian languages. MIUI 6.0 now supports Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam. Unlike other companies that simply acquire language packs, Xiaomi says it works with native speakers of the language in order to get more relevant translation.
Xiaomi is also interested in the Indian startup scene and the company is open to investing or acquiring companies that might “help uplift Xiaomi’s operating system.”
So far, we have seen Xiaomi – the smartphone vendor. This could be the point from where we will see more of Xiaomi – the Internet service company.