Xiaomi Eyes Tablet PCs

Xiaomi planning tablet PC?

After writing earlier this week that reports of a new TV product from homegrown smartphone maker Xiaomi appeared to be a genuine news leak, I may have to revise my opinion following yet another leak saying the company is preparing to launch a tablet PC. Before I go any further with my discussion on this latest news leak, I should say that the marketing savvy Xiaomi is becoming increasingly boring and predictable in my view, as it appears to simply be copying the entire product line of its role model, US tech giant Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL).

So let’s take a look at the latest reports, which say Xiaomi will announce a new tablet PC product at an upcoming launch event in mid August. (English article) There’s not much more detail in the reports, except to say the new tablet would be priced at 999 yuan, or about $160. The device could be based on technology that Xiaomi obtained last year with its purchase of e-reader software maker Duokan. The rumor also comes just a week after Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN) launched its Kindle tablets in China, with the basic e-reader selling for 849 yuan and the more advanced Kindle Fire starting at 1,499 yuan. (Chinese article)

In my view, the most significant thing in this latest Xiaomi news is that it’s based on an anonymous posting on Sina’s (Nasdaq: SINA) popular Weibo microblogging platform, which boasts more than 500 million registered users. Sina Weibo has become Xiaomi’s preferred platform for many of its marketing activities, which have ranged from sales to news leaks designed to create buzz before new product launches. I certainly can’t fault Xiaomi for using this strategy, as the biggest Weibo users are typically the young, white-collar professionals that the company wants to target as part of its “cool” image.

Earlier this week, I wrote about other reports that Xioami was planning to launch a new 47-inch Internet TV product, which would presumably complement its set-top box product launched last year. (previous post) Those reports were largely based on a photo of packing boxes for the TV in a warehouse, which also mysteriously appeared in a Weibo posting.

The photos in that case were quickly deleted from Weibo, leading me to speculate that the leak was perhaps genuine and not deliberately orchestrated by Xiaomi. That would have contrasted sharply with many of the other news leaks surrounding Xiaomi’s other upcoming products, which look suspiciously deliberate as part of pre-launch buzz campaigns.

This latest tablet PC news leak looks much more like Xiaomi’s more traditional pattern of deliberate rumors, leading me to believe that we’ll probably see more similar leaks in the next month before the official August event. The timing of the TV product leak earlier this week also now feels a bit more suspicious, and may have also been deliberate if Xioami is really planning such a product.

From a broader perspective, this flurry of new products seems both boring and also just a little worrisome for a company of Xiaomi’s size and maturity. Xiaomi began its life as a maker of moderately priced high-performance smartphones, and has done quite well in the space. But more recently it’s entered the set-top box arena, and now looks set to try tablet PCs, TVs and low-cost smartphones.

If some of you are saying this product lineup sounds slightly familiar, that’s because it is quite similar to Apple’s own product portfolio. But unlike Xiaomi, Apple is a much bigger and older company and also rolled out its pioneering products over a longer period. That fact leads to my second point, that perhaps Xioami is trying to do too much too quickly. If all these new product plans are indeed true, the company could soon find it is stretching its limited resources too thin, leading to logistical and operational problems as it tries to do too many new things at the same time.

Bottom line: The latest rumor of a new Xiaomi tablet PC looks like a strategic news leak to create hype before an upcoming August product launch.

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