[THE INVESTOR] China’s leading smartphone maker Xiaomi is still gauging the timing of its official launch in Korea, calling the marketability of its budget phones on the home turf of bigger rivals Samsung and LG, not the diplomatic tensions over THAAD deployment, as the key consideration for its entry.
“I don’t think Xiaomi is likely to set up its local office in Korea soon,” Jung Seung-hee, G-mobi Korea, the exclusive Korean distributor of Xiaomi’s smartphones, told The Investor in a recent interview.
“For now, our top priority is building a positive brand image through our products here.”
The Mi Mix, the first Xiaomi smartphone to hit the Korean market in April
The Chinese tech giant sells smartphones and home appliances through two different Korean retailers. While its low-priced but good-looking appliances are appealing to young consumers here, the smartphones have yet to secure a footing in the tricky market that is largely dominated by Samsung and Apple.
G-mobi became the official Korean distributor of Xiaomi phones in July last year, and the first phone was launched in April this year amid the intensifying THAAD row between Korea and China.
The first Xiaomi phone to hit the Korean market was the Mi Mix, a premium model with a price tag of 799,000 won (US$710). Due to the sour bilateral relationships, the launch event had a low profile, while only a small batch of the phone was released.
“We had to delay the Mi Mix release for months because there was skepticism about releasing a Chinese product during the tense bilateral relations,” Jung said.
But the CEO said she is sensing some positive signs of change after the presidential election in Korea, citing the welcoming sentiment toward President Moon Jae-in.
“The real test for Xiaomi will be the next phone launch in summer,” she added.
Even though she declined to further elaborate on the planned launch, Xiaomi’s more popular models such as Hongmi Pro, Hongmi 4, Hongmi Note 4 that are priced at about 200,000 won to 300,000 won are cited as the candidates.
Xiaomi is recently expanding its global presence, launching flagship smartphones in countries like Russia and Vietnam. But industry sources say the company will be taking a cautious approach to the Korean market.
“Korea is home to Samsung and LG and the competition is extremely fierce,” said a source on condition of anonymity. “For Xiaomi, grabbing a sizeable market share would be a meaningful success. But if it fails to do that, it may lose face.”
Another Xiaomi official told The Investor that the company is still working on its official launch in Korea, including hiring a local PR agency, denying that the plans have been withdrawn due to the THAAD deployment.
By Park Ga-young (firstname.lastname@example.org)