Copycat or New Chinese Innovator, You Decide- Xiaomi vs Apple- Xiaomi’s Innovation Gene Part 1

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October 17, 2014 by ...

Western press must meet its quota of ‘The next big thing from China!’ articles and Xiaomi makes for great ink. Take, for instance, the fact how Xiaomi is being called a new ‘disruptor’ in the cell phone industry and king of the hill. The Harvard Business review, no less, has hailed them as the second coming. In that article the HBR focuses on different aspects of Xiaomi. One is the specifics of their business model which is not without merit. Contending that Xiaomi is disruptive in terms of innovation, however, is irresponsible. The fact is that in most if not all respects, Xiaomi is merely a fast follower. Rather than beat that horse now, I will focus on Xiaomi’s ‘innovation gene’ and design.

Xiaomi and design theft

One of Apple’s design gurus said the unthinkable, he admitted that the emperor had no clothes. When asked about Xiaomi, he stated that their design pirating was ‘theft’ and ‘lazy’. I’m sure that this was quite a blow to Xiaomi fanboys and panda huggers who are hell bent on finding some company in China to be proud of.

The context of Mr Ivy, the Apple design guru’s statement was that Apple and others can spend years perfecting a shape which eventually becomes the form factor or design of a product. Such a thing is an art unto itself and costs quite a chunk of change. The fruits of such work are obvious. Apple is the vicar of such hard work in the electronics space.

China, on the other hand, follows the communist maxim that people are lucky to have anything so just make something. Aesthetic appeal was the last thing on the minds of people like Lenin, Stalin, Mao and others. After all, how many sexy products did the former Soviet Union produce? In fact, if there is one thing that all communist and former communist countries share, it is a horrendous sense of beauty, usability and anything smacking of appeal. China, communist as it is, has followed suit.

China steals ideas

In order to leap this ‘fbugly’ chasm, the Chinese have taken to theft. The term ‘Shanzhai’ best defines this. It is a nationalistic yet playful form of mimicry which serves the dual role of ‘sticking it to the big western firms’ and belittling brands as well. At best is is charming and at worst self-serving parasitical profiteering. You can decide where Xiaomi resides on that spectrum for yourself.

A picture is worth 1,000 words

The following photos are an attempt by this website at exploring just how much of Xiaomi design is really their own.  If you cannot tell the difference, as many cannot, between the Apple product and Xiaomi, then I’ll help you out. Apple products are on the right.

copy pad phones rest charger vs ipod

Looks pretty clear cut to me, Xiaomi does an excellent job of looking as Apple as they can. But that is just design, how about this little factoid the following photo of the Xiaomi camera lens


is actually the lens from an Iphone. Xiaomi literally stole the image and used it as their own.

As far as design goes, it is safe to say that Xiaomi does not appear to be very imaginative. Of course this is just one aspect of innovation, and they could be cutting edge in many other ways, which is what many are saying. I would agree that that with some hesitance, however. Yes Xiaomi is doing some things different, but they are not disrupting the industry in ways people are claiming. Their secret is something truly Chinese.

In order to know what that is, stay tuned for the next installment…


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