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Xiaomi hires ex-Google executive to lead push into India

Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi has hired a former Google executive to help drive its push into India, as the company ramps up efforts to expand into new markets and replicate its success at home.

The fast-growing company has recruited Jai Mani to be lead product manager for India, the world’s third-largest smartphone market, Hugo Barra, vice-president of international operations and himself a former Google executive, announced on Monday.

The appointment underlines Xiaomi’s aggressive growth strategy, which has seen it become one of the largest smartphone sellers in China, recording 240 per cent year-on-year growth, according to Canalys, the research group.

Xiaomi phones have achieved an almost cult-like status in the world’s largest smartphone market, where it overtook Apple in sales last year and is vying with Samsung for top spot.

Its devices have the look and feel of iPhones but analysts say the real selling point is the price – Xiaomi’s phones sell for a third to a fifth of the price. “They are positioning as the affordable Apple,” said CK Lu, analyst at Gartner, the tech consultancy.

Earlier this year, Xiaomi announced plans to begin marketing its phones abroad, with a move into 10 foreign countries including Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico and Malaysia. The company has not disclosed any details of international sales.

The privately held group was valued at $10bn during its last fundraising round in 2013, and launched in India, the world’s fastest-growing smartphone market, in July. At the time, co-founder Lin Bin said Asia’s third-largest economy would be “probably the most important” for the company.

India’s smartphone market grew 84 per cent year-on-year in the second quarter of this year, according to IDC, with vendors shipping 18.42m handsets.

In particular, low-end smartphone sales are increasing rapidly as India’s 650m mobile phone users upgrade their handsets to access everything from social media to the latest cricket scores.

Xiaomi is “for the cost-conscious consumer so it would be very successful for the Indian market”, explained Jessica Kwee, analyst at Canalys. “Their growth trajectory in India is going to be quite significant in these first few quarters.”

The company’s push into India could prove especially tricky for Samsung, the world’s largest smartphone maker by sales, which has already been hit hard by increased competition from Chinese manufacturers such as Xiaomi, Huawei and Lenovo. In India, the South Korean group is the market leader with a 29 per cent share, but local manufacturers such as Karbonn and Micromax are also gaining ground, with 8 and 18 per cent market share respectively.

Xiaomi is “still a new player but then again it has grown from scratch”, added Ms Kwee.

Mr Barra, who led the Google Android product team and oversaw development of the operating system and the apps that run on it, joined Xiaomi in August 2013. His recruitment was seen as a coup for the company as it launched internationally.

“Android fans: you’ll remember Jai from his memorable onstage demo performances at Google I/O and Nexus launches,” he wrote on his Googleplus account.

According to Mr Mani’s LinkedIn profile, he has worked in a range of positions at Google, including on Google Play, the company’s app store, and its ad serving platform DoubleClick.

Mr Mani will be based in Bangalore.


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