And even though US consumers won't be able to buy the Mi Note any time soon, Barra and the Xiaomi team still are keen to get their many other products in the hands of consumers here. "The US consumer is probably the most demanding consumer, with the highest quality bar and the most informed opinions of anyone anywhere in the world," Barra says. "Part of the reason why we want to be here is because we want to enter that feedback loop. We want to hear what people think about our products, we want to get feedback and improve our products everywhere (they are sold)."
"WE WANT TO HEAR WHAT PEOPLE THINK ABOUT OUR PRODUCTS."
Despite those challenges, the company's products aren't all that far off from being ready for US consumers. Barra dismissed the notion that Xiaomi has been forking Android and not working all that closely with Google on its devices. "To be clear, we are an Android partner like all of the other OEMs," he says. "We distribute Google services in every market we're in, outside of China." (Google's apps and services are still largely blocked throughout China.)
THERE'S NO TIMELINE FOR A FULL US LAUNCH, BUT XIAOMI IS GETTING ITS FEET WET
That spirit is something the company wants to keep intact if and when it truly goes global, and might be one of the ways Xiaomi will differentiate itself from its many peers. "I really do think that to launch products here, we need to bring a lot of our services which are only in China today," Barra says — and he's not just talking about phone features. He's talking about everything from marketing to manufacturing and distribution channels, not to mention having robust customer service and a way for potential customers to try its phones before buying. "We really need to bring a lot of them here and do something fresh and unique to differentiate our products and build a community."
While success is far from guaranteed, Xiaomi's rapid rise to a dominant position in the global smartphone market — without having a truly global presence — means that Apple and Samsung should be ready for a new challenge in markets they have typically dominated. Xiaomi will be playing there, likely sooner than later.