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Xiaomi tackles US market without a smartphone release

Xiaomi is making a tentative entrance to the US market, after revealing that its online Mi store will launch there later this year.

North American consumers will soon be able to purchase low-cost accessories like headphones and fitness bands online, but there are still no plans to release its smartphone range.

Read more: Xiaomi drops down the ranks as Apple claims Chinese market

According to the International Business Times, Xiaomi’s global vice president Hugo Barra explained that the handsets would remain limited to a few overseas markets, including Brazil and Russia.

"We're accelerating our entry in a sense by bringing simpler products," he said at a press conference earlier this week. "Hopefully, that'll be the beginning of really having America experience the Xiaomi brand and the quality and craftsmanship of our products."

Industry experts have been quick to point out that rather than testing brand appeal, Xiaomi’s decision not to release any of its popular smartphone devices in the US is likely to be because of the difficulty of breaking the market dominance of more expensive handsets.

In Western markets like the US and the UK, Apple’s iPhone alongside Samsung’s Galaxy range have a stranglehold, with many consumers tied into long-term contracts. As such, Xiaomi would have to invest a great deal of time and money to ensure an American launch was successful.

This would also contradict the firm’s traditional business model, which predominantly involves little direct marketing, and instead uses customer reviews to publicise its low-cost devices.

Despite the lack of a US smartphone release, Xiaomi was pleased to announce that its custom MIUI software has now gained 100 million users.

MIUI builds on Google’s Android operating system but introduces a number of custom features, notably alternatives to apps banned in mainland China like Gmail.

Xiaomi is also looking to expand its product range during 2015, encouraging consumers to view them as more than just a smartphone company. Its US Mi store is schedule to launch in the “coming months” and Mr Barra believes it will help the entire company expand and develop.

Read more: Xiaomi planning US launch on February 12

"We're trying to learn about what people will think about our products," he said. "We're trying to understand which products will be most successful. US consumers are very sophisticated. They're very opinionated. They have access to so many different products from so many different brands. We want to be a part of that conversation. We want to be a part of that feedback loop."

Barclay has been writing about technology for a decade, starting out as a freelancer with IT Pro Portal covering everything from London’s start-up scene to comparisons of the best cloud storage services.  After that, he spent some time as the managing editor of an online outlet focusing on cloud computing, furthering his interest in virtualization, Big Data, and the Internet of Things.