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#GMIC2013: Xiaomi Founder Lei Jun On How MIUI Addresses Key Android Issues

XiaoMi is a smartphone company that is a rage in China: its Mi branded handsets sport a highly customized Android deployment (called MIUI), and are linked to a range of cloud services provided on top of the handset, have their own market (as opposed to Google’s play store), and have around 200,000 pieces of content, including customized themes (similar to Go Launcher). The MI2 handset is priced at RMB 1999 (around Rs 19000); I bought one yesterday, and by my reckoning, it is the most intuitive and usable deployment of Android I’ve seen so far – everything from the music player to the alarm clock and notification bar is gorgeous, and the UI, according to the MIUI website, is updated weekly, based on user feedback.

At the Global Mobile Internet Conference in Beijing, Xiaomi Founder Lei Jun spoke about issues with Android, his company, how they approach customer service, among other things (note that these notes are based on live translation of Lei Jun’s talk, and some nuanced statements may have been, literally, lost in translation):

– The dominance of Android in China:“Over the last few years, it is obvious that Android has become the most mainstream OS. The marketshare will increase. In China, it amounts to 90% of total market turnover. The global average is 60%, but I’m sure it will increase globally.

– Issues With Android: “people have complaints against Android experience. What are people complaining about? Firstly, battery. I buy a phone, I use it for one month, and I have to charge it half a day. Secondly, there is bad security and there are all types of ads. There are lots of complaints.

It is not the cellphone that is an issue, it’s the third party apps. It is hard to avoid the spam and lots of apps occupying the space, and you can’t delete the spam. Once an app is installed, whenever you make a call, an app will pop out. You are familiar with this interface, and when you install apps, there is an authorization for multiple things – storage, GPS location, short text etc, and the authentication of android is misused by apps software. As a result, there are information security issues. Many apps are started automatically when you start the cellphone, and they are connected to the net and have ads. why is all this happening? I think there are two reasons:

The first reason is that in today’s mobile Internet environment, the business model of Android is not mature. A lot of startups are not making money. They’re placing ads everywhere. The second reason is that large amounts of PC developers have started to become cellphone developers. In the era of PC, you were not concerned with the battery running out. When developers developed the cellphones, they didn’t realize high power consumption which the Internet consumes. We have to be less aggressive. (At present) Apps operate in the back end and wake up every five minutes and connect to the network. This impacts the networks and consumes a lot of power.”

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Addressing Android’s problems: “What have we done to improve the experience? (On the Mi Market) all the vendors have the support that maps the function. After that, the battery life is elongated by 2 times even if 100 apps are installed. The second improvement is the self startup control, and controlled Internet connection. We can set up every app to permit Wifi and 3G connection. We did another thing for the special windows, which are closed as the default mode. In Windows, it is okay to have special windows, but not fine for the mobile. I don’t recommend suspension as a default mode.

Lets look at authentication: in Android, you’ll have to get authentication. Consumers have lots of complaints about it. For the private authentication, you confirm if people are willing to share the cellphone number books with the app. users are forced to give you the authentication. MIUI has given users back that authentication.

Quality Of Android Apps: We have 8 core apps, and the Mi Market has only 20,000 apps, as compared with the Google Play store. The Mi Market has over 500 million downloads.

The number of Android apps has exceeded iOs, and in the future it will be far bigger. We have to work together to protect the Android ecosystems, of it not having the experience of an iPhone.

We can’t neglect one reality – the average quality of Android apps is not as good as iOS. when we developed MIUI, we recommended premium content. It took us two years to develop our bookstores, but it has only 2000 books. We selected those books out of hundreds of thousands of books. We support scanned books, because you can see them in PC but not mobile, so we cut them in the mobile phone. Many people are working on bookstores online, but these book stores are in a mess, in terms of type or format.

Android market has been developing very freely and unruly. but we’re chasing only after quality.

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On Xiaomi and Hardware vs Software: My company is that…some people say we are shifting from hardware to software. We positioned ourselves as a triathlon athelete – we do hardware, software and Internet services. You are asking a triathlon athlete if he’s stronger at running or cycling. Xiaomi is like built to be different from other companies. We spent 1000 days for doing the UI, and we talked to over 100,000 people with over 130 UI options. We have been launching internet services for quite a while. We are a triathlon athelete. I don’t care of what kind of a label you put on my ocmpaniy. it’s a unique company.

On Inspiration & Quality vs Cost: I looked up to two Chinese companies when I was starting my company. What kind of a company in China can last for a century? I looked at a traditional Chinese medicine company, which has transcended three dynasties. It has two mission statements – never produce any less quality products. Never try and reduce human cost and investment cost at the cost of quality. There’s a problem in China where people don’t eat what they grow in their own fields. We have to use the best quality materials to produce the best costs. Sometimes people don’t see good quality and good materials. people see better package or cheaper price. Never feel frustrated if people don’t recognise the efforts you have put into something. xiaomi is using the best battery technology. It’s safer, in solid state, but people don’t see it, don’t feel about it. In March this year, the quality assurance bureau did a test, and only two companies passed – iPhone and Xiaomi.

The second company we looked up to is a hotpot service (in terms of quality of service). We were anonymous for the first 1.5 years. When we were fully prepared, people thought we did this overnight. When we had a very solid team of fans, people began to know us. We learned that the word of mouth, and the core of that is to do the best products and the best service, and go above the expectations of the users. Can we produce something that people will scramble to buy? We don’t put money into advertisements, we don’t go into exhibitions. I believe in one thing – that every phone is premium quality, and people will tell their friends.

On The Xiaomi DNA: it’s biggest uniqueness is that it is the Internet. We’re different from other mobile phone vendors. We don’t start work on the OS from day 1. We invited people to work on our development. We had 25 language versions. We only did 3 languages. The rest were given by our fans. We have done 42 wallpapers, and we have 200,000 pieces of content. This is unique for us. Our designers design things for our mobile phones, but we have an Internet DNA. The core of the Internet is to rely on the masses and the people, believe in the people, come from the people, go back to the people.

I had a dream, not to build a big company, but a small company. Xiaomi is a typical small company. you can have a small … my company is very horizontal, and we work our all the details. every Monday between 9 and 12, we have a design seminar. One month ago, I started to attend the Saturday morning meetings. I spend a lot of time talking with my staff, and I want to keep it a small company. Our sole mission is to work on good products. We focus on what we are good at. If you talk about company strategy, I will ask you if you’ve drawn a beautiful picture or not. We have to develop good wallpapers, because we want to create the best for all users. Every day, we grow. We are criticised all the time. The internet is the culture of criticism.

We have 36 co-founders. Whenever we have an idea, we get it executed immediately. I have been involved in company development for over 20 years. I don’t want to do another Huawei or TenCent. I want a small restaurant, and people will come and wait in line for it.

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The positioning of Xiaomi is very clear: We provide products for friends of Xiaomi. This is a clear positioning of Xiaomi. We have the fans, those people who like Xiaomi. Of course, there are disagreements. We only sell xiaomi cellphones to people who know xiaomi. We only develop products for those who support us.

We are not trying to please everyone. We are not trying to serve all the users.”

Written By

Founder @ MediaNama. TED Fellow. Asia21 Fellow @ Asia Society. Co-founder SaveTheInternet.in and Internet Freedom Foundation. Advisory board @ CyberBRICS

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.



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