Xiaomi has just announced the much rumoured laptop that it was expected to launch since end of 2014. With the Mi Notebook Air, Xiaomi has entered the PC segment with two new laptops. With the naming convention used, it is no doubt as to where the inspiration comes from.For all practical purposes, Xiaomi has given consumers an affordable Windows-based alternative to the Apple Macbook Air. The two variants of the Mi Notebook Air – with 13.3-inch and 12.5-inch Full HD displays – come in a metal body with the silver coloured one looking quite like a MacBook Air without the Apple logo, when seen from the front. The absence of any Xiaomi branding on the front flap could be due to the fact that the laptops are actually made by a Xiaomi subsidiary called Tian Mi. Both laptops run Windows 10 and weight less than 1.5 kg. One look at the slides shown during the launch will tell you that every comparison was made with the Apple MacBook Air: 13 percent thinner at 14.8mm; ultra thin bezel; 11 percent smaller body than a 13.3-inch MacBook Air and so on.The 12.5-inch model with Intel Core M3 along with 4GB RAM and 128GB SSD storage costs RMB 3599 (approx Rs 36,200). The higher end 13.3-inch Mi Notebook Air comes with Intel Core i5-6200U processor, discrete Nvidia GeForce 940MX graphics solution, 8GB RAM and 256GB SSD storage is priced at RMB 4999 (approx Rs 50,200).Looking purely at the price point on offer for the specifications on board, it seems to be a good deal. The build quality seems good from the photographs we have seen and the chiclet keyboard with backlit keys, slim form factor and light weight are definite incentives. Xiaomi is known for the aggressive pricing of its products and they have continued that approach in this new segment as well. But user experience is an altogether different matter and that can only be commented on, after actually using the product. Not to forget, Windows 10 is notorious for random bugs which can really ruin the experience at times.So far, so good. But at a time when PC shipments are on the decline and laptop shipments are will see some fall over the years, as can be seen from the chart above, it is a bit surprising to see Xiaomi enter this new space. The laptop space already has a lot of incumbents, and the only new thing Xiaomi brings to the table is the economical price point.Metal body laptops which are this thin and light, cost a pretty penny. Xiaomi would definitely have its eyes on prospective buyers looking at this category, but cannot afford the premium that is associated with it. In the 13.3-inch segment there are products such as the MacBook Air which is around Rs 65,000; Dell XPS 13 which is upwards of Rs 75,000 and HP Envy 13 which is again close to Rs 65,000. Xiaomi’s Mi Notebook Air at RMB 4999 (approx Rs 50,200) offers a better alternative to the other two Windows laptops.
With smartphones, Xiaomi really started the trend of getting affordable phones with great specs. If it is able to do that for the laptop segment, then that would be a feather in its cap. But one must keep in mind that players such as Dell, HP, Lenovo and others have been in operations for years and offer a much wider product portfolio. With just two laptop variants in its arsenal, Xiaomi certainly can’t compete with the big boys in terms of market share.Secondly, markets such as China or India where Xiaomi would expect to sell most of these laptops, also pose a hindrance. There is an increasing propensity for people in these parts, to bypass the PC/laptop altogether to go mobile first. According to IDC Research analyst Bryan Ma, Chinese notebook market will see a decline by 10.4 percent in 2016 as compared to a 9.3 percent decline worldwide.
Thirdly, Xiaomi has been trying to get into a lot of new product segments in its effort to create a Mi ecosystem of products. This year itself, Xiaomi launched the Mi Max, which is a 6.44-inch phablet which Xiaomi insists on calling a smartphone. Then there was the Mi Drone which was launched at RMB 2999 (approx Rs 30,200) with a 4K video camera and at RMB 2499 (approx Rs 25,200) for the Full HD camera. And now the two laptops.It is really difficult to gauge whether Xiaomi intends to be in these segments for the long run, or it is just a means to pacify the investors, after it could not meet its sales and revenue targets for 2015. We had observed in the past how Xiaomi adopting the offline sales model now was a sign of its desperation to grab some lost marketshare. The Mi Notebook Air seems to be a really bold move to create a market share in a category that is on a steady decline.Bottomline is, hardware sales numbers can just get you so far. And what’s to stop other Chinese players or even the incumbents from launching their own laptop brands to cut Xiaomi on the pricing front – just like they did with the smartphones. The Mi Notebook Air will run on Windows 10 and apart from the ‘Mi Sync’ and the ability to unlock the Mi Notebook Air with the Mi Band, there isn’t much of a Xiaomi touch on the product. So unlike say the MIUI, there isn’t much of the software or services play here. Maybe Mi Cloud can be a point of revenue with its cloud storage feature, but that’s about it so far. Xiaomi says it wants to bridge the gap between performance and portability and make it easier for young adults to buy an affordable PC which can be used for productivity. All said and done, it is still an uphill task to really make an impact in the laptop segment, as Xiaomi did with the smartphones.
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