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Challenging Apple by Imitation By SUE-LIN WONG Published: October 29, 2012, NY Times BEIJING — When Lei Jun, the head Xiaomi, one of the fastest-growing smartphone companies in China, talks about Steven P. Jobs, he is full of praise — and a hint of envy. “When Steve was alive, he was the best,” Mr. Lei said during a recent interview. “Nobody could surpass him. Nothing could surpass the iPhone.” Apple and its late co-founder have no shortage of challengers — not to mention emulators — in China, a country that analysts expect will overtake the United States this year as the world’s largest market for smartphones. Chief among the rivals is Xiaomi, whose newest smartphone has been expected to go on sale this month for 1,999…show more content…
Nokia did nothing. Mr. Lei points to that experience, combined with the realization of “the potential for smartphones to replace computers,” as inspiration for him to set up Xiaomi. Xiaomi differs from other smartphone companies in that it allows users to help design their operating systems. Every Friday at 5 in the evening local time, Xiaomi releases a new round of software updates for its own Android-based operating system — MIUI — to users in China and in Western countries. Within hours, thousands of fans are on Xiaomi forums to describe bugs and give feedback. In the past, fans have been asked to weigh in on how much memory they want in their phones, how thick the next generation model should be and whether there should be a flashlight on the back of the phone. “Apple is very conceited,” Mr. Lei said. Their attitude is, ‘I don’t need any feedback.”’ Mr. Lei’s bet on smartphones has attracted big-money backers. A fund- raising round from major venture capital investors in June valued the company at about $4 billion, a little less than half the current market value of Nokia ($9.57 billion) and on par with that of Research In Motion ($3.49 billion), the maker of BlackBerry phones. The company’s institutional investors include Temasek, a Singaporean government-owned investment vehicle, and the Chinese venture capital funds IDG Capital and Qiming Venture Partners. “Xiaomi has exceeded our original expectations,” Hugo

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