Xiaomi launches 5G flagship smartphone as it aims to boost its fortunes in China

Key Points
  • Xiaomi launched two new 5G-capable flagship smartphones — the Mi 10 and Mi 10 Pro, on Thursday.
  • The Mi 10 will be available on Feb. 14 and the Mi 10 Pro on Feb 18.
  • Xiaomi pushed forward with the planned launch at its Beijing headquarters despite the continued issues around the new coronavirus outbreak.
Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun unveils the company's flagship 5G Mi 10 and Mi 10 Pro smartphones at an event in Beijing, China on February 13, 2020.

Chinese electronics maker Xiaomi launched new 5G-capable flagship smartphones on Thursday in a bid to turn around declining sales in its home market, even as the company continues its push overseas where it has seen recent success.

The world's fourth-largest smartphone maker took the wraps off the Mi 10 and Mi 10 Pro at an event in Beijing. Both devices will be available in China first before entering international markets.

Xiaomi pushed forward with the planned launch at its Beijing headquarters despite the continued issues around the new coronavirus outbreak which has claimed the lives of over 1,000 people.

While some companies in China have officially resumed work after the extended Lunar New Year holiday, many employees are still working from home and full operations have not resumed.

Some of the key specs of the Mi 10 and Mi 10 Pro include:

  • 6.67-inch full high definition display
  • Qualcomm's Snapdragon 865 processor
  • Four-camera set up with one of them being a 108-megapixel sensor developed with Samsung
  • Wireless charging capabilities

The Mi 10 will be available in China on Feb. 14 starting at 3,999 yuan ($572.60) and the Mi 10 Pro on Feb 18 starting at 4,999 yuan.

Xiaomi is hoping its new phones will take advantage of Chinese consumers' desire for 5G smartphones and help stop the company's declining shipments in its domestic market.

5G refers to next-generation mobile networks that promise super-fast data speeds. For consumers, that means faster downloads of content and potentially better gaming experiences on smartphones. China turned on its 5G networks last year.

Xiaomi, however, has suffered in China's smartphone market with shipments of its devices falling more than 21% year-on-year in 2019, according to IDC. Overall, the entire Chinese smartphone market fell 7.5%, and IDC suggested that consumers are "waiting for cheaper 5G smartphones."

But for Xiaomi, which has always been seen as competitive on price, the new devices could help it outcompete rivals in China as 5G continues to grow. The company plans to release ten 5G-capable models in China this year.

International push

Despite Xiaomi's recent struggles in China, it has remained resilient globally. Its worldwide shipments grew 5.5% year-on-year in 2019 despite the overall market declining, according to IDC.

Xiaomi has been reducing its reliance on China so much so that India is now the technology firm's biggest market for smartphone shipments. The company plans to release the Mi 10 and Mi 10 Pro in some of its international markets.

Shou Zi Chew, Xiaomi's president of international and current chief financial officer, told CNBC in a recent interview that Europe was now the big focus for the company.

"Over the course of the next few years, we're going to put an emphasis on Western Europe," Shou said.

The company has expanded into countries such as Spain and Italy over the past few years. International expansion could help the company, especially during the 5G rollout, which is at its early stages, one analyst told CNBC.

"With the 5G opportunity, if Xiaomi could maintain a positive 2020 in China, with the overseas market as the growth engine, Xiaomi could have a very fruitful 2020," Mo Jia, an analyst at Canalys told CNBC.

However, Xiaomi's other domestic rivals such as Oppo and Vivo are also chasing similar markets and investing heavily in them, and that could be a challenge.

"Xiaomi needs to be fast offering the latest technologies at affordable prices, and keep investing in branding in Europe to stabilize its momentum," Jia said.

Coronavirus effect

Xiaomi's launch comes as the coronavirus continues to spread. Many Chinese companies have been shut down for an extended period and have put their plans on hold.

Chinese smartphone maker Vivo, for example, pulled out of the Mobile World Congress (MWC) where it was due to unveil a new product. MWC, the mobile industry's biggest annual trade show, was due to take place in Barcelona from Feb. 24-27, but has been canceled amid fears over the coronavirus outbreak.

But Xiaomi has pushed ahead with its launch. It did not invite any media to its event in Beijing, but instead, opted to livestream it. The Chinese government has advised against mass gatherings.

"Life could be affected by the outbreak of the coronavirus, but we can't be defeated by the epidemic," Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun said at the event, according to a translation provided by the company of his comments in Mandarin. 

"With adequate protection, we should resume production, research and development and go back to our normal work as soon as possible. That's why we decided to have this online launch event. This is a very special event," he added. 

The fast-spreading coronavirus could weigh on the entire smartphone market, however. IDC forecast a 30% year-on-year fall in shipments in the first quarter of 2020, saying the outbreak could have a "black swan effect."

"The coronavirus outbreak impacted the Lunar New Year's shopping season in late January and is also expected to have adverse effects in the following months," IDC said in its recent report.