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Xiaomi pushes back goal of cracking US phone market to 2019

The Chinese startup's new global chief resets the timeline, saying its phones will enter the US in "two years, if not sooner." The original goal was 2017.

Aloysius Low/CNET

Xiaomi, the Chinese startup that's made waves in Asia and South America, may finally come to the US.

The Chinese manufacturer's phone will launch in the US in "two years, if not sooner," Wang Xiang, the new global chief, told CNET after the Mi 6 launch last week in Beijing.

The new timeline, pushed back two years from a previous target, underscores the difficulties in entering the US. Xiaomi has built its reputation on creating quality phones and selling them at low prices. It has won fans along the way. However, most Americans haven't heard of Xiaomi. The startup's model of selling its phones directly through its website doesn't translate well in the US, where most consumers buy through their carriers.

Hardcore phone fans and savvy consumers have awaited Xiaomi's arrival in the US. It now appears the startup will move cautiously. At January's CES tech show in Las Vegas, Xiaomi then-global-chief Hugo Barra took back an earlier statement about the company's plan to launch stateside in 2017.

Xiaomi would be the latest Chinese company to attempt to tackle the US. Other entrants have seen mixed success. ZTE and Alcatel are relegated to the budget end of the spectrum, and big global players like Huawei can barely get its products into the US. OnePlus has a following in the US, but it's niche. Any new player could get lost in the shuffle.

"We don't want to make a random decision: Oh say, here's the Mi 6, let's try the US market, if it doesn't work, let's just leave," Wang said. "No, we want to be well prepared and make a boom in those markets."

Wang added that Xiaomi won't rush into the US because the company doesn't want to disappoint its fans there.

Xiaomi also faces pressure in its home market, where it saw shipments fall last year. The company slipped from third place to fifth place in 2016, according to market researcher IDC. Chinese players Oppo, Huawei and Vivo took the top three spots.

When Xiaomi does enter the US, expect a slow start, likely with its midrange devices such as the Redmi Note 4, before ramping up to sell its flagship models.

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