Poco could be Xiaomi’s OnePlus
Oppo: OnePlus = Xiaomi: Poco
It was news that many people had been waiting for. Only it was not quite the announcement that they had expected. After months of official silence, Xiaomi did speak about the Poco brand. But no, it did not announce plans about the much anticipated Poco F2 but instead said that Poco would be an independent brand, and would no longer be a “sub-brand within Xiaomi,” and would have its own dedicated team.
No, not quite what everyone had expected.
First, a bit of background. Xiaomi had surprised everyone in August 2018, when it revealed a new brand called Poco. The brand was supposed to be driven by Jai Mani, a former Googler (who had worked with Hugo Barra both at Google and Xiaomi), and posed a serious threat to OnePlus’ hegemony of the budget flagship segment. The brand’s first device, the Poco F1, was released in August 2018, won rave reviews and was also one of the bestsellers in its price segment. It seemed to be a masterstroke from Xiaomi, creating a brand with a seemingly dedicated following, without threatening its own bestselling Redmi series. Poco seemed set for a very interesting future.
And then…nothing happened.
It was almost as if Poco had gone off the radar. Yes, there would be statements made by its team about it. And to its credit, software updates kept being delivered to the Poco F1, which remained available on sale (and still is). It was not as if Xiaomi had brought the shutters down on Poco. It was very much present – as the updates and sales indicated – but it seemed to have been pretty much put on the back burner, an impression that was reinforced when Jai Mani also left Xiaomi, and when Xiaomi released the Redmi K20 series which seemed placed in the same price bracket as the first Poco device. And of course, there seemed to be no sign of the successor of the F1, making the Poco F2, one of the most talked-about non-existent phones in the smartphone market.
Well, Poco’s hibernation now seems to be over. The brand seems set to be back in business in the real sense of the world. The question that is puzzling a lot of folk, however, is just what role will it fill? Will it be a rival for the Redmi brand? Will it be a slightly less premium version of the more premium Mi range that Xiaomi says it will be bringing back to India this year? Will it play the role that Realme does for Oppo, a brand that takes on a rival, allowing Xiaomi to focus on its own core strengths? Or will it simply pick up where the Poco F1 left off, a budget flagship?
I am betting on the last option. Simply because thanks to OnePlus’ slightly more premium ambitions in 2019, the budget flagship segment suddenly does not have a star product. Yes, both Realme and Redmi have phones in that zone, but both brands come with “brand baggage” of being perceived as value for money propositions rather than flagships. Poco, on the other hand, has no such perception issues – it is known for delivering world-class hardware with a relatively innovative interface (with regular software updates) and minimalistic design at surprisingly affordable prices. Now, take that last segment, roll back the years to 2014, and you could be talking of OnePlus! The OnePlus of the pre-premium period. Indeed, the early months of this year might see Poco and OnePlus resume their rivalry, as OnePlus is rumored to be reading a OnePlus 8 Lite device, which would come with a much lower price tag than those seen on its recent predecessors.
No, this is not totally ruling out the prospects of Poco coming out with mid-segment devices (who knows, it might), but from what I know, the brand has a very strong standing as a budget flagship, a reasonably sizeable community, and with no perception baggage to hold it back – indeed, it would have a tougher time trying to win over users in the mid- and premium segments. It would make no sense to dilute it. The Redmi K20 series did reasonably well by all accounts, but the brand’s real strength lies in the lower and mid-segments of the market which it bosses with devices like the Redmi Note 8 series. It would make perfect sense to let Redmi handle the Realme challenge (which it seems to be doing rather well) in that segment, while delegating the duties of handling more pricey propositions – the ones that fall between the Redmi and Mi ranges – to Poco, which already has a reputation of sailing in those waters. And sailing well at that. I am expecting Poco to play the same role for Xiaomi that OnePlus did for Oppo – an independent brand that slugs it out in a segment where its parent is not quite as comfortable.
Which is why it makes more sense now than ever before to ask that question. The question that so many have been asking for more than a year. All together now:
“Where is the Poco F2?”