Too good to compete with iPhone and Samsung: The Xiaomi phone that must be protected at all costs?

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Too good to compete with iPhone and Samsung: The Xiaomi phone that must be protected at all costs?
It's now been over four years since the US trade ban forced Huawei to stop doing business with US-based companies, including Google. Of course, all of this happened in the wake of the US-China trade war, which will raise some questions about the reasoning behind the Huawei ban, originally claimed to have been put in place because the Chinese company could "spy" on users.

Politics aside, one thing is certain - the Huawei ban was probably the worst thing that ever happened to the smartphone industry in recent years. It stopped one of the most technically progressive phone-makers from continuing to make phones that challenged the likes of Samsung and Apple. And that's bad, because more competition always means better products for the consumer.

Now, the goodnews is that not long after the ban, another Chinese company inherited Huawei's great ambition and philosophy for making premium flagship phones with super-advanced camera systems! Of course, that's Xiaomi...

That being said, one thing that sticks out about Xiaomi's camera-centric flagship phones is that they either aren't globally available or even when they are, they seem to be coming in super-limited supplies. This is a big problem that Huawei phones didn't have.

So, why can't Xiaomi bring its super-premium flagship phones to the global scene? As always, the answer is nuanced (if there's an answer in the first place), but I also happen to have another, slightly less conventional, guess that might surprise some...

Let's take a look!

The mighty Xiaomi 12S Ultra will not be released globally: Is it a "threat" to the Galaxy S22 Ultra and iPhone 14 Pro Max?

Xiaomi's Ultra flagships keep skipping the global phone market

A bit of a backstory before we jump into the spicy stuff...

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The Xiaomi Mi 10 Ultra was released only two months after the Huawei P40 Pro+ - Huawei's first P-series (P stands for Photography) phone after the US trade embargo. In my view, it was always meant to be an alternative to Huawei's super-advanced flagship but, of course, with Google services on board. However, the Mi 10 Ultra never made it out of China...

Then, the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, which was somehow even more impressive than its predecessor, actually did see a global release! It arrived in some European countries and the UK in May of 2021 (about two months after it was released in China). However, as it turns out, availability was scarce. The phone was immediately sold out in the UK and later on in Europe, and Xiaomi simply never managed or wanted to restock it.

Xiaomi 12S Ultra not released globally due to fear of a Huawei-like ban?

And we come to the Xiaomi 12S Ultra...

Xiaomi's CEO officially confirmed the phone isn't going to be released globally - similar to Xiaomi's previous Ultra flagships. While this doesn't necessarily make us, tech enthusiasts, happy, it's good to know not to have empty hopes...

Anyway, you can call the following a conspiracy theory, an educated guess, or outright nonsense, but is it a coincidence that Xiaomi's most premium flagship phones haven't been released globally, or if they have, Xiaomi's had to basically pull them back by not restocking them?

I've discussed this before, but I really do believe that Xiaomi's job on the smartphone market (as far as flagship phones are concerned) was and is to fill in Huawei's boots. It's not hard to see - Xiaomi launched its first Ultra flagship after the Huawei ban settled in.

Here's something even more obvious - Huawei's premium flagship phones focused on the camera, fast charging, and eye-catching design, and now Xiaomi's premium flagship phones focus on... the camera, fast charging, and eye-catching design.

But probably the biggest hard evidence that "Xiaomi is the new Huawei" is the manufacturer's recently announced partnership with an ex-Huawei partner, Leica. The German camera hardware maker, which was part of Huawei's smartphone camera takeover, has now found a new home, and that's on Xiaomi's flagship phones.

Xiaomi might not be exactly as aggressive as Huawei was between 2017-2020 when it came to hardware upgrades, but it's certainly a worthy successor. The Xiaomi Mi 10 Ultra and Mi 11 Ultra were regarded as some of the best phones for taking photos at the time. The story with the Xiaomi 12S Ultra isn't any different, as the 1-inch Sony 989 sensor in Xiaomi's latest flagship is probably a couple of years ahead of what the competition will have to offer.

So, if "Xiaomi is the new Huawei", could a fear of the same fate be a reason that the Chinese company doesn't want to draw too much attention to its Ultra flagships and release them globally?

Is Xiaomi really in danger of being banned from doing business with US companies?

To cut a long story short, the reasons given by the US government for putting Huawei on the Entity list (read: blacklist), are:

  • The company's ties to the Chinese government
  • Huawei's advanced 5G equipment "could be used to spy on people via backdoors"
  • The fact that Huawei "misappropriated T-Mobile's trade secrets"

To the first point, it's true that Huawei has ties to the Chinese communist party. But what's also true is that all state and privately-owned companies in China have and must have established CCP committees. This is written in law and can be found in the 2012 Constitution of the Communist Party of China. As Huawei CEO Ren Zhengfei says in this 25-minute long interview for the BBC, according to Chinese law, all companies in China must establish a CCP committee.

Even if the Chinese Company Law regulates the establishment of party units in domestic and foreign enterprises, this doesn't mean they require governing roles for their members. In all fairness, it also doesn't mean they don't and won't. Unfortunately, it's just the political climate we live it. So, yes, Xiaomi does also have an established CCP committee, but so do Motorola, IBM, and Coca-Cola.

To the point of 5G... Huawei dabbles into everything from Consumer electronics, Telecom equipment, Networking equipment, and Semiconductors to Artificial intelligence, Automation, Cloud computing, and the Internet of things. On the other hand, Xiaomi is a Consumer electronics company and… that's about it. At the least, Xiaomi doesn't produce 5G equipment with "spying potential".

Then, when it comes to the T-Mobile saga, a jury awarded $4.8 million to T-Mobile after finding that Huawei "misappropriated T-Mobile's trade secrets". The allegations said that Huawei employees took pictures of and pieces from a smartphone-testing robot called "Tappy" that was developed by T-Mobile to test smartphones for bugs. However, it's important to note that although back in 2017, the jury ruled in T-Mobile's favor, they did not find that Huawei's misappropriation was "wilful and malicious"!

So, Xiaomi's only concern here should be its CCP committee, which all companies in China have. CCP committees in Chinese firms exist and there isn't much we can do about that. Again, Motorola has one, IBM has one, and even Coca-Cola has one.

Like Huawei, Xiaomi doesn't play by the rules of "planned innovation" and the competition doesn't like that

So Xiaomi's hardware advances are somewhat aggressive. Not as aggressive as Huawei's, but aggressive...

In case you didn't know, phone-makers plan ahead. Way ahead. For example, I can guarantee you that Apple already knows exactly what the iPhone 15 series will look like and probably what the iPhone 16 series will look like. I won't be surprised if companies like Apple and Samsung also have a good idea of what their 2025-2027 phones might bring to the table too.

With that "planning ahead" comes something I call "planned innovation". That's different from "planned obsolescence", which is a policy of planning or designing a product with an artificially limited useful life or a purposely frail design so that it becomes obsolete.

My term, "planned innovation," refers to the undeniable fact that phone-makers end up carefully calculating which new features to bring to phones now and which ones to leave out for later. You know - in order to justify upgrading to upcoming devices.

Although they all do, Apple is the best example of a phone-maker that takes advantage of "planned innovation". Cupertino loves spreading out its hardware and software upgrades over time. This has led to many Android fans making fun of iPhone users for not having the latest new features. The truth is that "planned innovation" comes with some benefits, as some new iPhone features that have been present on Android phones for a while tend to be more reliable because Apple's worked on them for longer.

Anyway, in that sense, Huawei wasn't playing by the rules. The company's phones featured software (think: Night Mode), and hardware (think: cameras, fast charging, under-display fingerprint readers), that were consistently years ahead of not only Apple's iPhone but even Samsung's flagships. Huawei's disregard for "planned innovation" really challenged Apple and other Android phone-makers and even led to Huawei taking the number one spot on the global smartphone market for a short while in 2020.

Now, Xiaomi is slowly establishing itself as thisotherChinesephone-maker that doesn't like to play by the rules, and the company probably realizes that this is likely to upset some people and might be the reason why phones like the Mi 10 Ultra, Mi 11 Ultra, and Xiaomi 12S Ultra are mostly reserved for the domestic market. Again, feel free to take that as a conspiracy theory, an educated guess, or nonsense - up to you.

Is there a chance Xiaomi is afraid that it can't sell as many flagship phones as Apple?

Sure, on paper, the Xiaomi 12S Ultra really is "too good" to compete with the Galaxy S22 Ultra and iPhone 13 Pro, particularly when it comes to cameras. That being said, it's also likely that Xiaomi might have a few other reasons for restricting its Ultra flagships from global release, such as:

  • Apple's nearly total dominance when it comes to flagship phone sales around the world
  • The cost-value ratio of bringing a phone out of China and to the global scene (selling phones abroad isn't as simple and cheap as creating an eBay listing)
  • The fact Xiaomi's biggest phone hits in Europe, the UK, and India are budget and mid-range devices from the Lite, Poco, and Redmi series

So, yes - the "fear of getting banned" theory is still valid in my opinion, but it's probably not the only reason why Xiaomi isn't bringing the 12S Ultra to shops near you. But guess what… that's not going to be the case with the Xiaomi 13 Ultra!

Xiaomi 13S Ultra global release confirmed: A Chinese deja-vu for Apple and Samsung coming next year

So, it's certain that China keeps getting some of the most innovative phones while I… don't, and that makes me super jealous. Yes, in a way, China keeps ruining phones for us because how am I supposed to be happy with my buggy Pixel 6 Pro when I know the Xiaomi 12S Ultra is out there - probably more stable, and probably with a better camera system than my Pixel?

Or what about the Huawei Mate XS 2, which is said to be one of the most refined foldable phones on the market right now? It took Huawei a long time to bring it to the global scene. Anyway, Huawei's future is certainly uncertain, to say the least, and I'll have to accept the fact that my Huawei P30 Pro might be the last Huawei phone I've bought.

However, as confirmed by the company's CEO, Lei Jun, on Weibo (China's Facebook), "this generation of Ultra (read: Xiaomi 12S Ultra) is only sold in China, and the next generation (read: Xiaomi 13 Ultra) must be sold globally"! Yeeey!

This leaves us with a weird pattern of non-global, global, non-global, global Ultra Xiaomi flagship releases if we consider what happened in previous years. Regardless, the news is fantastic! As mentioned in this story, Xiaomi isn't afraid of bringing bold upgrades to its new premium flagships, so I'm in no doubt that the Xiaomi 13 Ultra will be even bolder and better than the 12S Ultra.

We already know that Xiaomi's next Ultra flagship is in the works, thanks to a few leaks. Furthermore, rumor has it that Xiaomi is testing a 10x periscope zoom camera, which might, of course, end up on the 13 Ultra and bring it on top of the zoom game too. Xiaomi has the primary camera sensor in the bag, and its ultra-wide camera is one of the best in the business, so an extensive zoom system would make the Xiaomi 13 Ultra a monster.

That might bring back some Huawei memories to Samsung and Apple in 2023, which, if you've forgotten, had a really hard time competing with Huawei back in 2018-2020 when it came to hardware and cameras. Bring it back, Xiaomi!

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