Xiaomi, the Chinese internet company that was at one time the world’s third-biggest smartphone maker, has announced it will take part in Google’s annual developer conference in San Francisco this week, hinting at the launch of several new products.
Xiaomi is best known in the West as a Chinese smartphone maker that has, in the past, been accused of copying Apple’s hardware and software designs (not to mention marketing material). It sells the majority of its smartphones in China running a modified version of Android that doesn’t offer any of Google’s mobile services like search, maps, YouTube or the Play Store.
Therefore, it comes as a surprise that Google has invited Xiaomi to take part in Google I/O this year. The move was announced on Twitter by Xiaomi’s head of global development, Hugo Barra, who previously headed Android development at Google before moving to China.
— Hugo Barra (@hbarra) May 17, 2016
Mi is the brand under which Xioami is selling its accessories in European and U.S. markets, as it is seen as an easier word to pronounce than Xiaomi.
The mention of the Mi brand, and the image of what looks like new smart home or wearable devices, suggests Xiaomi is unlikely to announce the launch of smartphones in the U.S. during the conference. Xiaomi is reported to be working on an update to its hugely popular Mi Band fitness tracker that may be shown off in San Francisco Wednesday.
Xiaomi has already this year made a bigger effort to show off its devices outside its core markets of China, India and a handful of other Asian countries. In February, Barra launched the company's flagship smartphone, the Mi 5, at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain.
While Google is pushing to get its services back up and running in China (and this invite may be part of its plan to appease the Chinese government), Xiaomi faces significant challenges to get its smartphones on sale in mature markets like western Europe and the U.S.
At Google I/O this year, the company is expected to focus on virtual reality, with multiple sources saying it will launch a standalone headset that will compete with Samsung’s Gear VR as well as Facebook’s Oculus Rift and HTC’s Vive.
The company will also give updates on Android N, the latest version of its mobile operating system as well as Chrome OS, its desktop software, with multiple reports suggesting Google could combine the two into a single operating system.