Ciao, Xiaomi, ciao.

Posted by – Monday 2016-08-08

About a year ago, the Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi was burgeoning and among the top 5 sellers. In last months Xiaomi has lost ground to its competitors, and currently is not among them.

As an angry Xiaomi ex-customer, it makes me feel a bit happy. I think that Xiaomi deserves such fate, as well as another much worser.

A Xiaomi show

Why I bought, about two years ago, a Xiaomi RedMi 1 smartphone? For me, the selling point was the operating system. Xiaomi smartphones feature MIUI OS, a very polished version of the ubiquitous Android OS.

At the beginning it looked promising, but finished badly.

Xiaomi support? When cows fly.

What I demand to a smartphone is not the lastest OS version, but it just works as smoothly and flawessly as possible. My current smartphone runs Android 5.1 (Lollipop), works fine, and I am not planning a replacement for the next two years: it covers my needs.

So, what went wrong? About four months after the purchase, the delivery of MIUI updates stopped. In an optimistic scenario, I expected regular OS updates for two years, counting from the purchase date; in a more realistic scenario, I expected that the OS update cycle spanned one year.

Xiaomi failed to satisfy my demands: while I was willing to accept to be stuck on an old version of MIUI (or Android), I was not willing to accept that discovered bugs remained unfixed.

Besides, Xiaomi and customer support are antonym. Xiaomi is very active on social networks and, like Apple, excels in growing thousands of fans, getting wide media coverage and presenting itself as a successful and cool company. I allowed Xiaomi to fool me with all that hype, thinking that behind there was a serious company: the reality is that support that Xiaomi delivers to its customers is, unlike the Cupertino based company, negligible. Moreover, Xiaomi does not even listen customer complaints; all their efforts are limited to run some forums in which another user might help you, given you are lucky enough to find somebody who has managed to solve a problem similar to yours.

Ciao MIUI, hello CyanogenMod.

About a year later the last OS update I was delivered, the expected problems finally arised. My smartphone was getting slower and slower, despite the main use was photos, e-mail, web browser and WhatsApp. It became an unusable dumbphone, and I had to do a factory reset.

Because I was fed up of MIUI and Xiaomi, that factory reset was a temporary fix. I used some of my free time to install a version of CyanogenMod OS suitable for my device.

Coming from MIUI, CyanogenMod impressed me. All the applications ran much faster, and I was even able to run two applications simultaneously. MIUI was unable, for instance, to simultaneously run the FM radio application and the Chrome web browser in my RedMi 1 smartphone: the FM radio application was terminated some seconds after Chrome loaded a web page, even a simple one.

However my love affair with CyanogenMod did not last very much: a strong drop of my smartphone left it damaged beyond a reasonable repair, so I had to buy a new one.

Lessons learned and some hints.

Some hints from the lessons I learned:

  • Wide media coverage, being cool and thousands of fans does not imply that there is a serious company behind; hence, there is no guarantee you will get effective support when in trouble.
  • It is likely that a plain Android OS install on your smartphone is good enough for you; in fact, personalization layers on top of Android, like MIUI, might result in a worse overall user experience.
  • The life cycle of a Xiaomi smartphone is between 12 and 18 months, counting from the date the device is released to the market. Discard Xiaomi, as well as other manufacturers without a clear policy regarding support and OS updates, if you want a higher life cycle for your smartphone.

If you are still thinking about purchasing a Xiaomi smartphone, beware that:

  • Expect about six months of regular OS updates.
  • Forget about the low end smartphones from this manufacturer: these devices are underpowered for MIUI OS, which is RAM and CPU hungry.
  • As said before, the support you will get from Xiaomi is the provided by other users in the forums run by the company. This kind support has a number of cons; one of them is that it will demand many time from the user. If your family, job or other obligations leave few free time, a Xiaomi smartphone might not be a good choice.
  • Xiaomi’s customer satisfaction is low.

Xiaomi’s customer satisfaction is low.

I have found at Fortune.com an interesting article about the bad moment Xiaomi is going through: “Can Xiaomi Live Up to Its $45 Billion Hype?“. According to this article, many Xiaomi customers avoid this manufacturer when buying a new one:

Even Xiaomi’s reputation-making phones have been fallible. […] its products haven’t proved as reliable as those of more mature competitors. […] Xiaomi’s newest flagship phone, the Mi 5, has attracted complaints since its release in March, with buyers reporting that new handsets often reached a scorching 120˚ F.

[…] But the phones’ perceived unreliability has had an impact. Clark, the Internet consultant, recently surveyed phone owners in China. Only 37% of Xiaomi owners said they would buy another Xiaomi phone, while 74% of Apple users said they would get another iPhone. “Xiaomi isn’t sticky,” Clark says. “It’s not what an ecosystem should be.”

Xiaomi in few words.

But, how the past success of Xiaomi can be explained? According to an article I found at Forbes.com (“The Dramatic Rise (And Fall) Of Xiaomi”), all Xiaomi has achieved was because it was smart enough for being at the appropriate time and place:

Lei Jun, 47, former engineer and president and CEO of Kingsoft, a Chinese version of Microsoft Office, has a rich experience in China’s tech industry. He once said: “Even a pig can fly when it is hit by a tornado.” The quote, which became an instant hit with start-ups, meant that anyone can succeed by simply going with the trend of economic and social development.

And perhaps that’s what Xiaomi did.

Finally, if I had to define Xiaomi in few words I would say that it is just a personalization layer on Android (MIUI) and tons of hype.

Hence, nobody should be surprised by the current Xiaomi decline.

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