After an almost three-year long hiatus, Xiaomi finally launched a “proper” Mi-branded flagship phone in India on Friday. The phone in question, the Mi 10 5G, was launched via an online keynote event, amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis. That’s not the only crisis that Xiaomi has been dealing with lately though. Until a week ago it was also fighting another battle. To convince its users that it was very serious about their privacy, despite the fact that it made money off of showing them ads in MIUI, its default Android-based software running on the majority of its phones. Curiously, Xiaomi did not talk about software during the Mi 10 India launch — not even once.
The Mi 10 5G has a lot going for itself. The phone has an all-glass body, a large AMOLED screen with a high 90Hz refresh rate, Qualcomm’s latest and greatest Snapdragon 865 processor with gobs of high-speed RAM and storage, a 108MP main camera with OIS, 30W fast wired and wireless charging support, dual stereo speakers, I can go on and on, but I am sure you know the gist. The Mi 10 5G is a phone that’s akin to a OnePlus 8 Pro or a Samsung Galaxy S20+, Galaxy S20 Ultra. And unlike any of its past attempts, like say the Redmi K20 Pro, Xiaomi isn’t even beating around the bush anymore. The Mi 10 5G is a no holds barred flagship, not a flagship killer.
There’s one more thing about the Mi 10 5G that makes it a “premium” serving in Xiaomi’s carefully curated ensemble of devices in the Indian market today. This is something that is also possibly contributing to the phone’s high cost, pushing it close to a “whopping” 50K, an uncharted territory for Xiaomi in the world’s fastest growing and second largest smartphone market. And it’s got nothing to do with hardware. The Mi 10 5G will not have ad-supported monetisation and from what I hear, the phone won’t annoy you with any Xiaomi push notifications either, though I am not completely sure about the latter since I haven’t actually got hold of the device in person yet.
Both these software quirks have become part and parcel for most Redmi users in India, and even though there have been phones like the Redmi K20 and Redmi K20 Pro that have bucked the trend, the general perception among buyers is that if you’re buying a Redmi phone in India today, you’d better be prepared for ads and push notifications from the “n” number of apps and services that Xiaomi pre-loads them with — the controversy-ridden Mi browser is one example. Xiaomi of course makes up for it by still offering the most high-end specs at most rock-bottom prices. That’s in addition to the fact that it still caps all hardware profit margins at 5%. So maybe, it’s a win-win for everybody, I don’t know.
So why did Xiaomi not talk about one of Mi 10 5G’s biggest highlights at launch, or after? The reason is simple. It won’t be fair to Redmi users and potential customers. Xiaomi has shipped more than 100 million smartphones in India in some five years. Or wait, let me rephrase that for you. Xiaomi has sold more than 100 million smartphones under its Redmi brand in India so far and even though the company hasn’t shared per-phone specifics, it’s safe to assume where the sales have been coming from. Xiaomi is India’s top smartphone brand on the back of the Redmi Note and Redmi A phones. Xiaomi may be trying to reboot Mi in India, but it simply can’t afford to do that by taking Redmi users for granted by saying out loud, it offers two different levels of experience, one for the premium tier and another for the non-premium tier.
“You’ve seen a lot of Redmi phones in India over the last 5-6 years. This year we’ve decided we are also going to launch many Mi phones in the country,” Xiaomi India head Manu Kumar Jain said during his Mi 10 5G keynote. Clearly, Xiaomi is gearing a bunch of Mi flagship phones for India but it’s not all out of the blue. You could probably say that was the case when the company launched the rather unconventional Mi Mix 2, some three years ago, but a Xiaomi in 2020 is way different from a Xiaomi in 2017. It’s confident and it’s well placed, and as sales continue to dwindle in China (ironically, Xiaomi isn’t the number one smartphone brand in its home turf), it’s looking up to India for more. It can’t do that by jeopardizing its future with regards to its biggest customer base. That’s just the basics of business economics.