India

Xiaomi has a limited window to fix MIUI amid Chinese app ban

Brand perception matters the most right now

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Xiaomi is India’s top smartphone maker and it has been leading for a couple of years now. The brand is credited for revolutionizing affordable 4G smartphones in the country and since then, it has expanded to smart homes, wearables, IoT, and even luggage. However, the brand faces a fresh challenge unlike any other. Anti-China calls are at an all-time high and Chinese app makers are already facing the brunt. How long can a brand like Xiaomi survive?

In a recent interview with The Economic Times, Xiaomi India CEO, Manu Kumar Jain said, “Once or twice in the past one week or 10 days, there have been one or two episodes when people have come outside our stores and raised slogans… we haven’t seen any major episodes till now. But this, to us, appears more like Twitter reaction.”

India and China have radically increased their troop deployment in the bordering region of Ladakh. The skirmish has escalated severely after clashes broke out and both sides suffered casualties. The spread of Coronavirus had already seeded anti-China sentiments and the recent border crisis has watered them further.

India has already banned 59 Chinese origin apps in the country. Buyers are inclined to avoid Chinese goods and even companies are scrambling to reduce their dependence on Chinese imports.

In the middle of all the chaos is Xiaomi, the brand with a Chinese name. So far, the company hasn’t faced any drastic issues and phones continue to sell like hotcakes.

Thanks to local sourcing, marketing, and perception of the company, it has become a household name in India. Adding to this, its affordable offerings are unmatchable, giving it a natural edge over the others. But all of this could soon tumble like a house of cards.

MIUI — the elephant in the room

Every time I review a Xiaomi phone, a few points are always common. The phone has a solid design, cameras are usually above average, and battery backup is spot-on. Performance depends on the processor and we’ve seen top-notch results in most phones. However, everyone, including me, has one complaint — MIUI and its ads.

MIUI is a mature skin and has been crucial for Xiaomi’s rise as a phone maker. With a new iteration coming every year, it has developed a fan following equivalent to Google’s stock Android releases. Filled to the brim with features, it’s perfect for everyone. But, it incorporates a very complex web of apps that are supposed to be an extension of MIUI.

Apps like Mi Video are notorious for pushing ads in the UI. Furthermore, apps like GetApps and Themes will constantly recommend content that you can download. These too, are essentially ads.

On a normal day, the notifications tab is filled with ads and bloatware suggestions. Keep in mind, the phone already ships with a ton of bloatware and is now asking you to install more.

Users have often complained about “indecent” or “inappropriate” ads showing up on their phone. Xiaomi announced last year it’s working on fixing the issue.

This year, two apps by Xiaomi — Mi Browser Pro and Mint Browser, were caught collecting a huge amount of data about any website a user visits, even in incognito mode. The data was sent to remote servers, sparking a fresh controversy on Xiaomi’s reliability. These apps often ship by default on MIUI phones.

MIUI 12 incorporates a host of new features that focus on improving the privacy and overall security of the phone and its data. However, MIUI 12 roll-out is still in the early stages and won’t act as an immediate stop-gap measure that’s required right now.

Xiaomi’s brand perception is on the line now

India banned 59 apps including TikTok for safety concerns. These apps have a notorious history of collecting too much user data without clear consent.

Many of them are serial offenders who’ve built their business models around data collection and ad targeting. Adding to this, their Chinese origin adds a layer of opaque international bureaucracy and practically impossible enforcement.

Alibaba backed UC Browser and UC News feed on your information and thrive by delivering ads. Irrespective of whether they’re relevant or not. The apps are a security researcher’s nightmare.

When I compare the behavior of UC Browser against Xiaomi’s stock apps, the difference isn’t big enough. Both push cheap and desperate ads in my notifications area.

Wouldn’t any average Joe feel the same? Pretty much every app included in India’s ban list has a strong history of flouting basic moral conduct. Xiaomi, being a respected brand in the hardware space, cannot afford to be included in this list.

I’m not saying ads are bad. Google is the world’s largest advertising company and it operates with transparency. The company is liable for privacy lapses and laws like GDPR (European Union) exert a moral responsibility on the company’s management. This accountability is lost as soon as we reach China.

Safe vs affordable: which side will you choose?

Xiaomi started integrating ads in the user interface because it helped in making the actual phone cheaper. A considerable chunk of Xiaomi’s revenue is dependent on bloatware (pre-installed apps) and ads.

In the short-term, the brand is able to sell more phones thanks to aggressive pricing and earn ad revenue in the longer run. But, times are changing and geopolitical forces exert more pressure than ever.

Now’s the time for Xiaomi to decide — can it let go of some revenue in exchange for long-term brand perception? These ads are clearly not helping the company make a point and users are gradually understanding the value of their data.

With the recent app ban, a Chinese app or software that delivers ads is inherently assumed to be compromised or risky.

The company may have to rework their product pricing or could move away from ads in a phased mnner with new phones. It can also offer a monthly subscription wherein users can opt-out of ads and data collection. But selling privacy after selling you a device may not go down well for many users. Amazon has tried this subscription model with its Fire tablet lineup that targets the entry-level segment.

If Chinese phone makers want to sell units anywhere in the world, one thing’s for sure — they need to focus on privacy as a fundamental right and not a privilege. The Huawei ban has proved that getting in the bad books of non-allied nations could mean doom for them.

India

Samsung Galaxy F22 goes official with 48MP camera, 6000mAh battery

Also gets an AMOLED display with 90Hz refresh rate

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Galaxy F22

The affordable segment has been a very competitive price segment for the last few years, and its demand is never-ending in the developing markets. Samsung has launched the Galaxy F22 in India, and its unique selling point is a massive battery, quad cameras, and an AMOLED display.

It has a signature Samsung design that we’ve seen on a lot of other F-branded phones. While the looks are conventional, it aims to cover up by offering as many features as possible. Despite intense competition from players like Xiaomi, realme, and vivo, Samsung has managed to hold onto its fort, unbudged.

On the front is a 6.4-inch AMOLED screen with HD+ resolution, a 90Hz refresh rate, and a waterdrop notch. The Galaxy F22 is powered by a MediaTek Helio G80 SoC with up to 6GB RAM and 128GB internal storage. There’s a microSD card slot for storage expansion.

The rear sports a 48-megapixel primary camera, an 8-megapixel wide-angle lens, a 2-megapixel macro sensor, and a 2-megapixel depth sensor. The front features a 13-megapixel selfie camera.

Backing these internals is a 6000mAh battery with 25W fast charging. Although the charging brick included with the phone is rated for 15W only, so you’ll have to buy a faster charger adapter separately. The fingerprint scanner is located on the side for authentication. It ships with Android 11-based One UI 3.1 out-of-the-box.

The Samsung Galaxy F22 is priced at INR 12,499 (US$ 167) for the 64GB+4GB storage and INR 14,499 (US$ 195) for the 128GB+6GB option. It’ll be available in Denim Blue and Denim Black color options, and sales start from July 13. Online sale partner includes Flipkart and Samsung’s in-house online website.

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India

Mi Watch Revolve Active is a premium fitness tracker with 14 days battery

Has more than 100 workout modes

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Mi Watch Revolve Active A

The Mi Watch Revolve was launched last year, and it sits in a comfortable spot — not too expensive, but loaded. Now, the brand’s expanding its offering and bringing in a much more fitness-oriented product dubbed the Mi Watch Revolve Active.

As the name suggests, the watch is designed to keep you outdoors as much as possible. Or in the new normal, as active and fit as possible. It has a far more sturdy build and continues the premium design language.

It has a 1.4-inch AMOLED display with an always-on display, eliminating the need to touch the screen just to view the time or other essential details. In addition, the screen is protected by Gorilla Glass 3 and weighs just 32 grams.

The fitness front comes equipped with LifeQ Health algorithm, which analyzes more than 30 key data points like blood oxygen, stress, heart rate, sleep quality, energy levels, calories burned, and more. All these data points are leveraged to process your lifestyle, fitness regime, and overall performance.

Together, these data points deliver more accurate blood oxygen levels (SpO2), sleep cycles, real-time heart rate, stress levels, body’s oxygen consumption (Vo2 Max), and calories burned. In addition, more than 117 workout modes are supported, including triathlons, swimming, HIIT, Boxing, Water sports, and Yoga.

GPS tracking features an Airoha GPS chip that supports GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, and BDS navigation systems.  Simple operations will be far simpler when you summon Alexa, as the watch supports the voice assistant for reminders, alarms, and other instructions.

The Mi Watch Revolve Active is water-resistant up to 50 meters and comes pre-installed with basic apps like alarm, timer, stopwatch, weather, find my phone, flashlight. It connects to the phone via Xiaomi’s Wear App and has a mini-store for watch faces, which has more than 100 options right now.

Lastly, Xiaomi says the watch can deliver up to 14 days of battery life on a single charge. If you toggle the long battery mode, it can stretch up to 22 days. While these numbers may seem inflated, Xiaomi has an irrefutable history of delivering solid numbers in the real world.

Price and availability:

The Mi Watch Revolve Active is priced at INR 9,999, and sales start from June 25. It’ll be up for purchase via Amazon, Mi.com, and other partner stores. It comes in Beige, Black, and Navy Blue watch case options, with six strap color options, including Black, Blue, Green, White, and Purple.

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India

Mi 11 Lite launches with Snapdragon 732G, triple-rear cameras

The lightest phone to launch in 2021 so far

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The second wave of Coronavirus has eased in India, and the country is gradually opening up. A few brands decided to avoid any new launches amid the raging pandemic, creating a vacuum in an otherwise fast-paced industry. Thankfully, Xiaomi has returned with a new offering, and it’s called the Mi 11 Lite.

The Mi 11 series is designed to offer a more premium experience without making a huge dent in your pocket. It follows the same design language as the Mi 11X but is far more thinner and light. At just 6.8mm thickness and 157g weight, it’s touted to be the lightest phone of 2021 so far.

On the front, its got a 6.5-inch AMOLED screen with Full HD+ resolution, a 90Hz refresh rate, and Gorilla Glass 5 protection. In addition, to make the phone lighter, Xiaomi incorporated a “flat flexible OLED” and a redesigned circuit board that is 35 percent smaller than conventional ones.

Powering the Mi 11 Lite is a Snapdragon 732G processor with up to 8GB RAM and expandable storage. A side-mounted physical fingerprint scanner is included for authentication, and there are dual speakers with Hi-Res Audio support.

The rear sports a triple camera setup consisting of a 64-megapixel primary sensor, an 8-megapixel wide-angle lens, and a 5-megapixel telephoto sensor. There’s a 16-megapixel selfie camera that is housed in a punch-hole cut-out. The software supports AI Beautify, Night mode, Time burst, and much more.

Backing these internals is a 4250mAh battery with 33W fast charging. The brand claims the battery has an endurance rating of more than 100 hours, and the compatible fast charger is bundled along. The Mi 11 Lite is IP53-certified for minor dust and water splashes.

The Mi 11 Lite is priced at INR 21,999 (US$ 300) for the 6GB+128GB option and INR 23,999 (US$ 325) for 8GB+256GB. It’s available in three color options — Jazz Blue, Tuscany Coral, and Vinyl Black. Pre-orders start from June 25, and the sale starts from June 28 via Flipkart, Mi.com, and partner physical stores.

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