“Sold out in 2.3 seconds.”
“Servers crash due to excess demand.”
“Next batch of products to be available on August xx. Register for you order. Limited units.”
Earlier this year if you had told us that a smartphone would generate headlines of this sort, we would have shoved a breath analyzer in your face. Today, a month and a half after the Xiaomi Mi 3 was announced in the Indian market, we can only shrug our shoulders in some bemusement. In fact, for many people in geekdom the word ‘Xiaomi’ has become synonymous with something that is irresistible (check our review here ) but is exceedingly hard to get.
It has been a bit of a mixed blessing, with those getting the devices celebrating and those not getting them, cursing Xiaomi and Flipkart (another shameless plug about our piece in this regard here). We have had all sorts of opinions being expressed, ranging from how Xiaomi will take over the Indian smartphone market to how they are a bunch of fradusters who are offloading an older device (well, the Mi 3 WAS released in India on the same day the Mi 4 was showcased overseas – imagine the uproar if any other manufacturer had tried something similar) on to an unsuspecting public.
We are not getting into that debate. Because honestly, we think the greatest contribution of Xiaomi has not been rapid sales, bad logistics, or market domination – for God’s sake, they have not even sold a hundred thousand devices in a market that runs into tens of million at the time of writing. Nay, what Hugo Barra and Co. have managed to do is far more impressive – they first redefined ‘value for money’ by offering high-level specs at surprisingly low prices and then they made the term ‘value for money’ itself, for want of a better word, ‘hot.’
Allow us to explain. Before the Mi 3 came along, most of the chatter in tech circles was about flagship devices that generally cost a bomb. Yes, there were always devices that offered a lot for not too much money around (the Lumia 520, LG’s L series, and a host of devices from Samsung), but the headlines were almost always about the cream, not the milk. Yes, the likes of the Moto G and the Moto E did make headlines, but they were always slotted as ‘cheap, affordable’ phones that were one-offs. So yes, you had speculation about the next iPhone,the next iteration of the One from HTC and so on, but frankly, not the same kind of concern was shown to, say, the successor of the Lumia 520 or the Moto G, which somehow never got leaked or talked about to the same extent, in spite of some very impressive sales figures. The “value for money” range was a bit like the seats at the very front of a cinema hall or the penny thriller in a bookstore – they would sell a lot but well, they were hardly aspirational, and therefore were tucked away in the background.
And that is precisely what Xiaomi has managed to twist around, thanks to a good product, aided and abetted by some very clever messaging and a major charm initiative (worthy of a communications case study, we think – hark ye, management types!). After the launch of the Mi 3 in India, suddenly having a phone for Rs 15,000 or lesser is not a sign of tech deprivation, but is actually pretty much a big deal. We don’t think it is a coincidence that it has been raining devices at that price point of late – from Asus’ ZenFone series to HTC’s first octa core processor device, the Desire 616. No, the flagships are not dead, but for the first time, they are being challenged in terms of aspiration value by much lower priced devices that come with decent hardware and are well designed.
The “you wanna play, you gotta pay” argument is beginning to wear just a little thin – one of the reasons why we think HTC priced the One E8 for a relatively low Rs 34,990, almost a third below the relatively similar specced M8. And well, although we think that the talk of Xiaomi taking over the Indian smartphone market is a bit far-fetched at the moment, what cannot be denied is the impact the company is having on other players in the market – it is forcing prices down, upping the design ante and is putting a lot of pressure not juts on the flagships but also on traditional ‘value for money’ players.
As an Indian manufacturer that is known for selling devices at the Rs 10,000 price point admitted to me over coffee, “We no longer can get away with the ‘itney mein itna hi milega’ (‘you can only get so much for so little money’) logic. People have been spoilt.” Their reaction has been to focus anew on design and experience, while acknowledging that raising prices is not an option.
Yes, the fact that the Mi 3 has limited stock means that everyone cannot get a Mi 3. That is a huge opportunity for other manufacturers with devices at those price points. But they need to be seen as being on par in terms of quality and performance. And that involves a significant change from the ‘low price is everything’ approach that was the Commandment on which these worthies based their existence. At the time of writing, people were expecting HD displays, good cameras and new versions of software in devices priced at around Rs 15,000. At the beginning of the year, you would have had to spend close to twice that amount for those specs.
Something tells us that things will not change with the launch of the Redmi 1S budget phone in India in the coming days. Once again, we will have a mad rush for devices. Once again, servers will crash and sales will be multi-second affairs. Once again, there will be praise and complaints. But beneath all this, what’s most important is that once again, the competition will take notes and get ready with alternatives.
So yes, all those press releases about how fast the Mi 3 has sold out in India might make the headlines on some blogs and tech media, but for us, the real impact that Xiaomi has made has been in terms of adding hotness to what we think are the three most important words in the world of consumer tech:
Value For Money.