from the delicious-irony dept
The rise of China has been predicted for a while now, and in the field of technology we are already seeing Chinese companies that are likely to have a global impact. One manifestation of that is the $25 billion US IPO of Alibaba -- roughly, China's equivalent of eBay, but much bigger -- which was the largest in history. Another is Xiaomi, only founded in 2010, but already shipping 61 million smartphones a year. Writing in the Guardian, Charles Arthur called it "China's Apple", although Apple’s head of design, Jonathan Ive, is not too enamored of the comparison:
when asked about the company last October [Ive] was blunt: he "didn’t see [the similarities in design] as flattery" and called the superficial similarity in appearance of Xiaomi's phones and software "theft" and "lazy".
Xiami is not shy about borrowing ideas from Samsung either:
Certainly it has mimicked some of its names: one of the new phones unveiled on Wednesday, a 5.7in device called the “Mi Note”, echoes the 5.7in Galaxy Note phablet range.
No surprise there, you might think, since China is (in)famous for its Shanzhai culture, even though that now goes well beyond producing cheap knock-offs of popular products. But given a tendency to draw on others for inspiration, the following news about Xiaomi, reported by Bloomberg, is nonetheless rather satisfying:
Sales of the company's Mi Power Bank battery pack for smartphones hit 14.6 million units last year, less than half what the total should have been, Chief Executive Officer Lei Jun said at a press conference at the company's headquarters in Beijing Thursday.
There is, of course, a delicious irony in that comment, but there's something else. It shows -- just as expected -- that China is recapitulating the early history of the US. Once, America too was a pirate nation, happy to, er, borrow ideas from Europe without worrying too much about asking or paying for permission. Now, of course, the US is the biggest fan of people owning ideas, and forcing others to pay for the privilege of building on them. The comments by Xiaomi's CEO show that China is following the same evolution. Put another way, it can only be a matter of time before Chinese companies regularly sue those in other parts of the world for "infringement" of their ideas, and the country replaces the US as the loudest cheerleader for longer copyright and patent terms, and harsher punishments for those who dare to ignore them.
"What is the biggest problem? There are many fakes," Lei said. "If there were no counterfeits, our sales would be double or triple. The product has been recognized by everyone."