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Barra, Xiaomi aim to conquer the world

The former Android exec was lured by the challenge of building a global company that he says could be the next Google if he does his job right.

Hugo Barra debuting the second Nexus 7 in July in San Francisco.
Hugo Barra debuting the second Nexus 7 in July in San Francisco.
James Martin/CNET

Former Google VP Hugo Barra was a major player in the Android business, but the lure and promise of Chinese phone maker Xiaomi apparently convinced him to make a career change.

Barra left his role at Google last month and is prepping to join Xiaomi in October where he'll be responsible for "international business development and Android strategic partnerships." Xiaomi manufactures Android phones for the Chinese market, and so already had close ties with Google.

While Xiaomi isn't well known today, at least outside of China, Barra aims to change that.

"The aspiration for the founders is that Xiaomi will become a global company that happens to be in China," Barra told AllThings D. "If I do my job right, in a few years, the world will be talking about Xiaomi in the same way that they talk about Google and Apple today."

What actually attracted Barra to Xiaomi?

"To me, right away, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, truly a dream job, this idea of building a global company which could be as significant as Google from the ground up," Barra told AllThingsD. "It was just something that I will never come across, with a team whom I know, with a company that has DNA similar to my own and, on top of that, to live in Asia for at least some period of time."

Xiaomi is already doing well, having sold 7 million devices last year and expecting to sell as many as 20 million this year. But the challenge now is to advance the company as a bona fide global competitor. A large task will be to expand the success Xiaomi has seen in China to other developing markets, such as India, Russia, Indonesia, Latin America, and Thailand.

The secret, according to Barra, is to win over consumers with a low-priced but quality product and convince them to use the Xiaomi operating system. "They want to get to a place where they can sell the device at cost and then sell high-margin services to make that phone experience even better," he said.

Though Barra has left Google, it seems there are no hard feelings. Rather, it's in Google's best interests to have someone like Barra leading the charge to extend Android's reach across the world.