Update 1 (08/24/2021 @ 04:50 AM ET): Xiaomi has provided an official statement and more clarity on this announcement. Click here for more information. The article, as published on August 23, 2021, is preserved below.
As an American in tech media, it’s hard for me to grasp just how massive Xiaomi has become in such a short time. Xiaomi became the world’s number one smartphone brand this year, but they have a miniscule presence in the U.S., operating a website that doesn’t even offer the product the brand is most known for: the smartphone. Xiaomi is the quintessential value brand in the smartphone world — their products offer excellent bang for the buck, and there’s a smartphone for everyone, no matter the price point.
To differentiate its products from one another, Xiaomi divides its products into multiple sub brands, the most notable of which is “Mi.” Now, ten years after launching the first smartphone bearing the Mi brand, Xiaomi is ready to make a big change: It’s dropping “Mi” from its product names going forward. This change in branding started with the company’s recently-released MIX 4 smartphone, and a representative for the company told XDA that all of its upcoming products will follow suit.
Though the company is best known for its smartphones, Xiaomi also sells many products in the smart home, lifestyle, and computing categories, including televisions, laptops, refrigerators, air fryers, smartwatches, scooters, robots, hairdryers, and so much more. Most of these products bear the Mi brand today, but that will change for any new products they launch.
Fun fact: Xiaomi’s first product to bear the Mi brand wasn’t actually a smartphone, but it was definitely related to smartphones. The company’s first product was actually MIUI, its Android-based operating system that is on version 12.5 today. Early visitors to the XDA Forums may remember when the community considered MIUI the hottest “custom ROM” on the planet. What many didn’t realize at the time was that the developers behind MIUI had far grander ambitions than maintaining an Android fork.
In late 2011, Xiaomi launched its first-ever smartphone, the Mi 1. This smartphone packed flagship (at the time) specifications, including Qualcomm’s dual-core Snapdragon S3 chipset, 1 GB of RAM, and a 4-inch 854×480 resolution LCD panel. Of course, it also ran MIUI on top of Android 2.3 Gingerbread.
For the next few years, Xiaomi continued to pump out new smartphones in its Mi series, all of which were exclusively available in China. In late 2013, Xiaomi poached Hugo Barra from Google, who was at the time a VP and product spokesperson for Android. Under the guidance of Barra, Xiaomi expanded into other parts of Asia, including Singapore but more crucially India, a country that has become key to Xiaomi’s global success. Xiaomi’s first products to launch outside of China were the Mi 3 and the Redmi 2, the latter of which was the second product in the company’s Redmi sub-brand, which has since grown considerably and has become crucial to Xiaomi’s global strategy.
The Xiaomi Mi3 in its recycled cardboard packaging. Source: Roland Tanglao on Flickr
The global launch of the Mi 3 and Redmi 2 opened the floodgates for Xiaomi, and they quickly expanded into more markets, launched more smartphones, and expanded into other product categories. Since Barra’s departure in 2017, Xiaomi rose to the top spot in India’s smartphone market and has reportedly dethroned Samsung in Europe. Numerous factors have contributed to Xiaomi becoming the top smartphone brand in the world, including Huawei’s decline and COVID-19-induced supply constraints, but I was hardly surprised to learn that they finally made it to the top this year. Xiaomi makes really good products, and there’s not a single segment they’re afraid to compete in, whether it be budget phones, ultra-premium flagships, concept phones, or foldable phones.
Lei Jun, the co-founder and CEO of Xiaomi, once commented on the origin of the company’s name. “Mi”, he said, stands for two things: “Mobile Internet” and “Mission Impossible.” Xiaomi sees itself as a mobile Internet company that sets out to complete “impossible” tasks, which is something you’ll hear a lot in the company’s product unveilings. The word “Xiaomi” itself translates to English as “millet”, a small-grain crop, while “Xiao” translates to “small.” Lei Jun thus tied the company’s name to the concept that a grain of rice for a Buddhist is as great as a mountain, meaning the company focused on the smaller things before moving its way up.
Now that Xiaomi has become the world’s top smartphone brand, perhaps they think it’s time for customers to associate their products with the company’s name rather than just “Mi.” It seems that in China, the company already sells devices without “Mi” in the name, so this move also brings their global product naming strategy in line with their Chinese one. Don’t think for a second that this will clear up any confusion about the company’s product branding per market, though, because that’s still a huge mess.
Screenshot of Xiaomi’s Chinese web store, showing the product names for several smartphones.
Mi, Redmi, and POCO are the three brands under which Xiaomi currently categorizes all of its products. Soon, that list will become Xiaomi, Redmi, and POCO, changing the conversation from sub-brand versus independent brands (Redmi and POCO were both spun off from Xiaomi a few years back) to three companies competing with one another, or at least the illusion of it.
Xiaomi has provided the following statement through their Spokesperson:
Starting in 2021 Q3, Xiaomi’s product series “Mi” will be renamed to “Xiaomi”. This change will unify our global brand presence and close the perception gap between the brand and its products. This change may take some time to take effect in all regions.
With the introduction of the new brand identity, two distinct product series will sit beneath the parent brand. Xiaomi products represent the pinnacle of technology and offer a premium experience. Redmi products bring big innovation at a more accessible price point and are aimed at younger audience. This differentiation is also reflected in our updated logos, with both the Xiaomi and Redmi logotypes under the parent brand logo.
The product series naming convention — Xiaomi and Redmi — will also be applied to our ecosystem and IoT products over time.
Featured image: Xiaomi’s old logo