On November 1, 2018, Xiaomi opened its largest Mi Home Experience Store at Indira Nagar in Bengaluru. The store was different because it not only had products sold by the company in India but also ones that it did not sell just yet. It means the store became a window into Xiaomi’s plans for the Indian market and products it could launch someday. This store can be described as a walk-in experience for anyone to look into Xiaomi’s ecosystem of products. Some of them have already become available in the country. One product that was literally on the tongue of most technology journalists that day was Mi Notebook or laptops made by Xiaomi. My colleague who attended the opening of this store was mighty impressed by the laptop as well. Also Read - Xiaomi rolls out MIUI 12 update for Redmi K20, K20 Pro
Since then, we have been waiting for that moment when Xiaomi confirms its plan to enter the laptop market. The company finally made it official this month and it came at one of the most opportune moments yet. As millions of Indians either work from home or learn from home, Xiaomi has decided to offer the product they need the most – laptop. Its entry has not only renewed interest in the laptop market but also shows the need for incumbent players to evolve now. Remember the year 2014 when Samsung, Micromax and Karbonn were the top three smartphone players in the country. Xiaomi entered the smartphone market and disrupted the industry unlike any other before it. It later followed the act in the smart TV market as well. The question is not whether it will be able to disrupt the laptop market but also, what will be the prolonged effect of Mi Notebook launch in the country. Also Read - Xiaomi Mi Notebook Pro 15 (2020) launched 10th-generation Intel processors and Nvidia GeForce MX350
If there is one thing certain about this industry is that herd mentality has played out over time and again. Xiaomi created a playbook and Realme has been playing by those same rules. It is, in many ways, expanding faster and getting rewarded better as well. Another factor that has taken prominence in the recent weeks is India’s border conflict with China, which left 20 Indian soldiers and an unspecified number of Chinese soldiers dead. There is also the concern whether Indians will distance themselves from Mi Notebook. According to IDC, India’s traditional PC market declined by 17 percent year-over-year during the first quarter of 2020. Xiaomi has nailed the timing with its Mi Notebook launch in India. It brings freshness to a segment that has been on an iterative update cycle for far too long. Is that enough? Also Read - Xiaomi Mi NoteBook, Mi NoteBook Horizon Edition laptops launched in India; check details
Xiaomi Mi Notebook brings freshness to laptop segment
The first thing that strikes the most about Mi Notebook is its understated looks. No, the first thing that strikes is the price. The second thing that stands out is the design of the device. I have to be honest here and mention that I haven’t seen the laptop just yet. However, the pictures that I have seen and the impressions shared by my colleague, who is reviewing the laptop, tells me that this understated look has gone down well with the tech community. That is precisely what Xiaomi seems to have hoped for since it began work on bringing laptops to the Indian market.
“After continuous requests from our Mi fans, we decided to launch the Mi NoteBooks in India this year. We started evaluating the laptop category in early 2019 and worked on the product line up to bring a much more balanced portfolio for our consumers,” Raghu Reddy, Chief Business Officer, Xiaomi India told BGR India, in an email response.
In a country like India, mobile is the first computing device for a lot of consumers. It is the device they use to connect to the internet for the first time. It is also the device that most people use to engage in commercial activities. That leaves the laptop market with a small share but also one that is indispensable. It is the device that most people come back to when they need to get things done. As a result, the laptop is not just a computing device but also an extension of your personality. This cultural change is reflected in the number of stickers people put on their notebooks. Xiaomi Mi Notebook is arguably the most sticker friendly laptop out there thanks to its minimalist design and clean front panel.
This design and pricing are clearly working in its favor but the timing could be another important factor. “I personally think this is the right time because there is a lot of surge in the market and people are waiting to buy devices,” Jaipal Singh, Associate Research Manager, Client Devices at IDC India told BGR India. Singh also added that Xiaomi could cater to the audience looking to get computing devices for their children’s online classes. These are the consumers looking for a lightweight laptop from a reliable brand and with support for video calling. “Whenever a new vendor like Xiaomi enters into the market, they also bring a freshness in the market,” Singh added on a telephonic call.
For Xiaomi, the laptop is an extension of its ecosystem and an opportunity to attract millennials and Gen Z customers. “These consumers are looking for compact devices, which are not only lightweight but also updated to the latest specification,” Singh said. He added that millennials and Gen Z customers are looking for devices that “work with OTT platforms and support on-the-go gaming”. However, even Singh agrees that the “best option is the pricing” of the Mi Notebook. In comparison to competition, Xiaomi seems to be offering better value than incumbent players in the laptop market. By bringing the laptop in the Rs 40,000 price segment, Singh thinks that Xiaomi has shown its intent to disrupt the market.
“For other vendors, it is difficult to manage the overall cost, margins of their channel partners and then launch at the same price point,” Singh explained. “Xiaomi is balancing the overall market dynamics and its own reputation here considering this is just an entry into the laptop market,” he further said.
“We always want to bring the latest gen technology with minimalist design for our Mi Fans in India and Mi NoteBook is no different. When we started work on defining the laptop for India in 2019, we saw that the trend towards full screen (or bezel less display) on smartphones was appreciated by customers. So, we took the call to replicate that on our Notebook line with an immersive 16:9 display with very minimal bezels of 3mm resulting in a 91 percent screen to body ratio,” Reddy said, explaining the product philosophy. “Along with the screen & multimedia experience, consumers need a powerful laptop which can seamlessly perform all productivity tasks. The Mi Notebooks come with up to 10th Gen Intel Core i7 processors that ensure top notch performance,” he added.
Demystifying the laptop buying experience
During my call with Singh of IDC India, we repeatedly spoke about how Xiaomi is not going down the traditional path of introducing multiple SKUs for its laptop. Xiaomi has announced a total of two models – Mi Notebook 14 and Mi Notebook 14 Horizon Edition and there are a total of only five SKUs for these devices. It seems that Xiaomi Mi Notebook 14 series will not even fill the entire display table at a retail store. “I think devices should be based on the personas not based on the small specification changes,” Singh told me. “The market is very much fragmented right now and most consumers are not able to identify the right SKU for them,” he added.
“With Mi NoteBooks, we intend to simplify the consumer purchase journey. For this, we have offered a limited number of SKUs for the category,” Raghu Reddy explained in an email response. He says the aim is to meet the majority of requirements of consumers looking for power from their laptop. “With the launch of Mi Notebooks, we are offering a premium experience, providing best in class specs with minimalist design for our Mi consumers,” he added.
With Mi Notebook, Xiaomi has hit the nail on its head whether its price, specifications or the design. However, the Mi Notebook falls in the laptop segment and not the smartphone segment. In the PC Masters Race, the questions never cease and Mi Notebook is no exception. Since the launch, there has been this fantasy of a AMD Ryzen-powered model, which could further lower the price and offer even better performance per watt. However, Xiaomi says it is focused on balanced performance and great user experience. For now, it doesn’t seem to be planning models with AMD chipsets inside.
“As a company and people designing the laptop, we knew that we must focus on the CPU, RAM, storage and GPU and ensure they all work in tandem for the best performance possible. Since the CPU is central for a notebook performance, we decided to use the latest and best from Intel – 10th gen processors for our newly launched series in India. They offer the best in class performance on productivity applications like MS Office applications and those which need high core clocks,” Reddy said. “As we evolve in our journey of bringing the laptop series in the market, we will continue to analyse the market and bring in products that meet the requirements of Indian consumer,” he added.
” I think it’s a good strategy to go with the leader in the market,” says Jaipal Singh. “Ryzen has definitely changed the overall outlook for AMD in the traditional PC market. I think we need to give them [Xiaomi] some more time to figure out how they want to approach,” he explained the possibility of Xiaomi using the Ryzen platform.
Xiaomi Mi Notebooks put pressure on incumbents to match price
Xiaomi’s entry into India’s laptop market could have a domino effect unlike the scale that we saw in the smartphone market. It could push the incumbent players, mainly HP, Dell and Lenovo, to reinvent themselves but they seem to be armed for the challenge. Just days before the Mi Notebook 14 launch, Lenovo introduced its IdeaPad Slim 3 lineup with 10th gen Intel Core processors and a starting price of Rs 26,990. Acer, HP, Dell and others have also introduced new laptops as a way to stay relevant and competitive in the market. These incumbent players also have a solid enterprise market, an area that Xiaomi does not seem to be looking at right now. But the road ahead will certainly be bumpy for these incumbent players.
“Xiaomi has intensified the entire competition with its price. Now, everybody needs to match those prices because these prices will change the expectations of consumers,” says Singh. “So far all the factors are very much favorable in the name of Xiaomi. They have a strong brand name and a strong ecosystem play in terms of their online presence and retail stores in the country.”
“With the Mi Notebook series, we are looking at reaching out to the power users; people who expect and are looking at their device to deliver a certain level of performance from student to young professionals,” Raghu says about the target audience. “Given the times we live in, where learning from home and work from home has become the new normal for us, we believe Mi Notebooks will be a true value device in the market. Since launch, we are seeing encouraging google search trends for the Mi Notebooks. We hope that customers will accept our notebook series like we have seen in the case of other categories that we have entered in the past few years,” he added.
Singh further adds that the incumbent players cannot take Xiaomi litely for sure. “They have some plus point in terms of the overall presence in the market and overall connection in the market, especially in the offline market. I don’t think Xiaomi will be able to connect easily in the offline retail segment.”
Who will follow Xiaomi’s lead in India?
At the launch of Mate 20 Series in India in 2018, Huawei announced its plans to bring Matebook lineup to the country. However, the plans took a big jolt when the US placed the company in its entity list last year. Since then, the company has not said anything about its plan to enter the Indian market. Huawei also declined to comment for this article. However, Madhav Sheth, CEO of Realme, has already said it plans to enter the laptop market as well. The company even introduced a new “1+4+N” strategy that revolves around its smartphone business. However, it does not have a proof of concept device or existing product portfolio to work with.
Singh thinks that Huawei is in the best place of all the Chinese smartphone makers to bring its laptop portfolio to the Indian market. “You can expect them to enter this market very soon,” Singh said, citing the existing product segment. He says players like Xiaomi and Huawei have already worked on laptops in their home market. Realme, on the other hand, has not launched laptops and its larger support group, BBK Electronics and Oppo, have also not entered this segment. So, Singh thinks that Realme won’t be launching laptops immediately and will instead strengthen its smartphone and smart TV market share in India. Singh also clarified that Honor might beat its parent Huawei by launching its MagicBook in India next.
With the Mi Notebook 14 and Mi Notebook 14 Horizon Edition, Xiaomi seems to have opened a pandora box of sorts. It has suddenly made the laptop market interesting once again. This entry will fuel new innovation and rapid introduction of a new product lineup from its rivals. It will exert a lot of pressure on incumbent players while paving way for Honor and Huawei to follow suit. While Xiaomi is making its entry at an opportune moment, there is also a looming uncertainty due to the ongoing battle between India and China. We need to see whether Xiaomi can put a serious dent in the laptop market. For now, the space has received the attention it lacked for the past few years.