On the surface, they had about as much in common as chalk and cheese. But both enjoyed a brief period in the tech spotlight on the same day – April 19. The Samsung Galaxy S8 and the Xiaomi Mi 6 were unveiled in India (after having been unveiled overseas) and China respectively.
We are not going to get into the tech specs of those two worthies or their design – both have been given enough space already. Suffice to say that both represent the pinnacle of phone technology for each of their brands. They are, in a word, flagships.
They are also warriors trying to win back territory that each of their brands has seemingly ceded away.
Cast your mind about a year back around this time, and it seemed to be the best of times for both Samsung and Xiaomi. For Samsung, the Galaxy S7 had been a massive success with its design and spectacular camera, reinforcing its place as the world’s number one smartphone brand. Xiaomi, on the other hand, was carving a niche for itself in China, where it was emerging as the largest smartphone brand, ahead of the likes of Apple, Huawei and yes, Samsung.
A year, however, is a long time in technology. And the past twelve months have not exactly been memorable for the Korean or Chinese brand. It was a time when Samsung had to deal with the Galaxy Note 7 fiasco when the batteries on many of its devices exploded. The company did not help its cause with some communications that seemed sluggish and insensitive. Xiaomi, on the other hand, found its golden run coming to an abrupt end, with the likes of Oppo, Vivo and Huawei overtaking it. There are many who feel that the lukewarm reception by consumers to the Mi 5 had a role to play in this change of fortunes. The departure of their high-profile global vice-president, Hugo Barra, to Facebook has not helped matters. It is in this altered world that the Galaxy S8 and the Mi6 are going to wage war in the coming days. Their task is not just to ratchet up record sales, but also do something far more important – rebuild brand equity that has taken a knock in recent times. And each is taking different paths in doing so.
Samsung has, interestingly, seemingly taken a page out of the Xiaomi Mix design book and focused almost totally on cutting edge design – the oohs and aahs (and indeed some of the write ups) of those who saw the phone first-hand would have done a porn film credit. Clearly, the bezel-less look is a winner, although the other specs are high-end too, and slapped on top of these is a premium price. Xiaomi, on the other hand, has decided to keep its bezels on the non-Mix side. In fact, quite a few folks have said that the Mi6 indeed looks a lot like its predecessor, the Mi5. Another thing that has not changed is the brand’s “THOSE specs at THAT price” strategy – unlike the S8, the
Mi 6 does not cost a bomb even though it comes with comparable hardware.
Which strategy is likely to yield better dividends only time will tell. Their fortunes will depend on different markets – Xiaomi is likely to slug it out mainly in China and India, while Samsung has a more global market – but there is a lot of hope riding along those two flagships. Hope not for conquering new markets. But for a return to the good old days. Of a year ago. A year is, after all, a long time in technology. And both Samsung and Xiaomi know that.