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Is Xiaomi the Chinese Apple? Its CEO plays the Steve Jobs role well

The company, which produces smartphones that can rival the iPhone 5, is valued at $4 billion less than three years after it was founded.

Don Reisinger
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
2 min read
The Xiaomi MI-Two next to the HTC One X+ (middle) and the Samsung Galaxy S3.
The Xiaomi MI-Two next to the HTC One X+ (middle) and the Samsung Galaxy S3. CNET Asia

There's a company operating in China that is called the next Apple by supporters, and is run by a founder that has achieved Steve Jobs-like status among his firm's followers.

Xiaomi Technology may be largely unknown to the outside world, but in China it's a household name, Reuters reports in a detailed profile of the company and its founder. As with Apple in the U.S. and other countries, Xiaomi commands instant attention in China when it announces a new product. When it releases new devices, it's not uncommon for Chinese workers to take the day off to get their hands on it as soon as possible.

But that's not all. According to Reuters, Xiaomi founder Lei Jun went to Steve Jobs' fashion school, and wears jeans and a black top whenever he's in public.

"China's media say I am China's Steve Jobs," Lei told Reuters in an interview published today. "I will take this as a compliment but such kind of comparison brings us huge pressure."

As Lei himself pointed out, Xiaomi is a "totally different" company than Apple. Xiaomi, which was founded less than three years ago and is already worth $4 billion, only produces smartphones. The majority of those smartphones are sold online in small quantities, according to Reuters.

The key to Xiaomi's success might be the combination of short supply and the value customers see in its products. The company's Xiaomi MI-Two is surprisingly similar to the iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S3, but comes in at half the price of Apple's smartphone in China, according to Reuters. In a recent performance test on the smartphone, CNET Asia Labs found that the MI-Two's combination of a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 CPU and Adreno 320 GPU helps it achieve better graphics performance than the Galaxy S3 and iPhone 5.

That performance and comparative value hasn't gone unnoticed in China's exploding smartphone market. However, actually getting the MI-Two is difficult. According to Reuters, Xiaomi shipped just 50,000 units in its first run when the device launch on October 30. The smartphone sold out in under two minutes. So far, the device has reached 300,000 unit sales.

Restricting supply has long been used by companies to build up demand. If a product is desirable and it's hard to find, consumers tend to want it all the more. And the company selling it benefits. That's what Xiaomi has capitalized on since its inception.

Lei believes that the good times will continue to roll. He told Reuters that by the end of the year, Xiaomi will have sold seven million smartphone units. The company had forecast two million unit sales.