Xiaomi thinks its inexpensive set-top box is the perfect way to introduce itself to Americans


The company is still weighing the right time to bring phones to the U.S.

Xiaomi is finally selling one of its devices in the U.S., but it isn’t one of the company’s smartphones.

Instead, the Chinese phone maker is selling Mi Box, a $69 streaming video box built on Google’s Android TV.

“This is what begins to really help us establish a brand presence here in the U.S.,” Xiaomi international chief Hugo Barra said in an interview Thursday at his apartment in San Francisco’s SoMA district.


Ina Fried for Recode

Xiaomi’s Hugo Barra

The device, which offers access to Netflix, ESPN, HBO and Showtime as well as Sling’s live TV service, is being sold primarily through Walmart.

Its arrival comes as the once high-flying company has seen its market share in China drop considerably, falling behind domestic rivals Huawei, Oppo and Vivo. Meanwhile, Xiaomi has found it hard to duplicate its online sales success in other countries, where phones are primarily sold in physical stores.

Barra sounded an upbeat note, as he always does, saying that it encountered some supply challenges in China but insisting that the company is still getting a good share of the internet-savvy consumer market and that growth in places like India and Indonesia is continuing.

As for its U.S. plans, Barra said the company is still trying to decide on the right time to bring phones here.

“When we finally bring our first model to the U.S., it will be disruptive,” Barra said. Xiaomi has been selling phone accessories here since last year, but the Mi Box is its first full-fledged device to be sold in the States.

Starting with a TV product allows Xiaomi an easier launchpad than if it started with smartphones, which require carrier testing and government approvals, and could make it less likely to be on the receiving end of patent litigation.

“It is a much less complex IP landscape,” Barra said, though he added that Xiaomi did license various patents in order to offer Mi Box and has also been improving its patent position overall.

Selling Mi Box through Walmart, Barra said, follows through on the company’s goal of delivering cutting-edge gear at low-end prices.

“There is no shortage of people who are very excited about technology and who are price sensitive,” he said.

The device will go on sale this weekend at 4,000 Walmart stores and will also be sold on the chain’s website and through Xiaomi’s Mi.com.

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