Xiaomi hits back at copycat allegations

Chinese billionaire Lei Jun: founder, chairman and CEO of Xiaomi
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Chinese billionaire Lei Jun: founder, chairman and CEO of Xiaomi

Hitting back at critics that labeled Xiaomi an "Apple copycat", vice president of international operations Hugo Barra said the company has "grown up", pointing to its latest smartphone – the Mi Note – as proof.

The rising smartphone star unveiled its new flagship phablet, the Mi Note, at a launch event in Beijing on Thursday, taking direct aim at Apple and Samsung's large-screen offerings.

"We have been working on the Xiaomi Note for 3 years – this is a product that was not designed in response to the iPhone 6 Plus or Galaxy Note 4 – it's been in the making for some time," Barra told CNBC on Friday.

"We've been able to build an industrial design team and mechanical hardware engineering team that have had time to do a lot of independent thinking – and this is the first product [that is a result of that]," he said.


Pulling a classic Apple move, the budget smartphone maker launched a cryptic ad campaign in the lead up to Thursday's launch, building suspense among its burgeoning fan base.

During the launch, the company also drew direct comparisons between the specifications of its new phablet and the iPhone 6 Plus.

When asked why Xiaomi went so specifically after Apple's phone, Barra said: "All of our executives are engineers, and our audience is also engineers, geeks, people who really love specs. The reality is whatever product we announced, the one thing people would do is look across the entire ecosystem and compare, so we might as well do it ourselves."

Read MoreXiaomi takes aim at Apple's phablet with new device

Copycat or not, Xiaomi was a disruptive force in the smartphone market in the past year, leapfrogging Lenovo and LG to become the world's third largest smartphone marker behind Samsung and Apple.

Xiaomi held a 5.3 percent share of the global smartphone market in the third quarter of 2014, trailing Samsung and Apple, who have 23.8 percent and 12.0 percent shares, respectively, according to IDC.

Growing Xiaomi's empire

While Xiaomi is working to increase its foothold in emerging markets, Barra says it has no plans to enter developed markets at the moment.

Xiaomi forayed into Indonesia and India in 2014 and is looking at launching in Brazil, Mexico, Thailand and Vietnam next.

"Those are markets where our strategy works very well: high specification products that can sell at very affordable prices," he said.

"Entering markets like the U.S. and Europe require being really ready. These are incredibly competitive markets where you really have to have your marketing polished up. I think it will take us a couple of years."