The Xiaomi ringtone is everywhere for a reason. For several years the company has been offering cutting-edge technology across a wide price spectrum. In a way, the company has been responsible for making educational, delivery and utility apps accessible across the country by offering smartphones that fit every budget. The technology that promises a lot of changes is 5G but so far, there hasn’t been a good budget 5G phone, one that has all the features and 5G bands. Enter Redmi 12 5G, which will make rival companies sit up and take notice. What makes the phone special? We sat down with the ever-cool Anuj Sharma, chief marketing officer of Xiaomi India, in Delhi, and here’s what he had to say.
When did you start focusing on the need to offer a 5G phone that doesn’t break the bank and that too without making compromises?
We’ve been wanting to do this entire 5G aspect for quite some time, almost two years… so back in 2021, but it was not possible. It was also very tough to kind of start putting the pieces together till the end of last year, second half of H2, because once the 5G auction was done, only then you could actually say which were the right bands that will work in India. It has to be India-ready 5G, which circles, how fast is that going to go? When all of those boxes are ticked, only then can you bring in something that everyone will appreciate.
If someone is paying for something, they want the maximum out of it. So to give people a 5G device that may or may not work, to give them something that probably adds extra costs, or is a substandard product, because you want to call out 5G... that doesn’t really fly. I spoke about the fact that in the $100 to $200 segment, which is the largest segment we have in the country, less than three per cent of consumers actually were buying 5G devices in the last two years. It’s not essentially because they weren’t any 5G devices; there were a couple of 5G devices… when you’re talking about $200, it’s around Rs 16,000. For Rs 16,000, there have been devices from almost all the brands, but none of them were really good in terms of ticking all the boxes. You got 5G, but then you were kind of compromising on something else, you obviously have to cut corners. I actually saw a couple of devices launch but because they were 5G, they gave them an HD display, or the build quality is the easiest one, since that doesn’t appear on the spec sheet. But all of those are not going to fundamentally shift the larger population. It took time, not just from R&D perspective, but for other partners to align. Corning has to be in, Qualcomm has to be in… other suppliers also have to agree… okay, this is how we can kind of achieve a price point which we think will start moving the masses or a large part of the country towards 5G. What the Redmi Note did for 4G, I’m hoping that this (phone) will be the moment for 5G.
Where do you see the smartphone profile for the company go from here? How much of it will be 5G?
If we look at history, the rollout of 4G was much slower. In December 2014, you had Calcutta and you had Bangalore, which had 4G; the adoption of 4G was tougher because you had to go and get a SIM card exchanged. By about 2016, a large majority had moved to a 4G phone. With 5G, the rollout actually started last October and the rollout actually has been much better… from both Jio and Airtel. It’s been quick; it’s been pretty much seamless. You suddenly have 5G, if you have a 5G device. But because people didn’t really have access to great devices, and because there weren’t too many innovations, we think now is the time when people will start switching. Hopefully, by the end of this year, you’ll start having more 5G phones than 4G phones being sold.
Now that hardware specs from almost all companies are becoming similar, do you see AI and software play a big role when it comes to innovations, though AI — in some form or the other — has been around for some time?
AI has been there for quite some time. Look at Redmi Note 6 Pro. It had rudimentary AI where it would have scene detection and based on what you were shooting, it would switch the camera mode to that.
We’ve all been waiting for the ChatGPT phone (smiles)! AI comes in at almost every level. So it’s already there... when you’re using your phone on a regular basis... without it being called AI. It’s how the SoC functions are managed. The same 5,000mAh battery today is offering more hours of usage. Yes, it is partly due to better process technology but it’s also how each of those call functions that come to the CPU gets managed or how your storage is managed… in the UI, we’ve got this technology where your storage is managed in such a way that even after three years, your phone does not slow down. So all of that is, in a way… I wouldn’t go as far as calling it AI but I probably call this machine learning. But AI will have to go beyond phones. How your phone interacts with other smart home devices, our whole AI IoT strategy… how does your phone interact with the rest of the products?
What do you think Xiaomi’s role will be in the coming days?
It stays the same. Addressing new tech that comes in… how do we make it available to as many people as possible. Xiaomi started about 13 years ago with that particular vision. So 13 years ago, our founders realised that there was this massive digital divide that was forming: People who could afford the latest tech… essentially, the digital haves, and they were getting further away from the have-nots. In this century, technology is going to be your biggest leverage when you are looking at career growth, when you’re looking at personal growth. So without access to that tech, without access to innovation, a part of society would get left behind. And that’s essentially why Xiaomi was formed.
What’s your favourite feature on Redmi 12 5G?
I always kind of go back to my VLSI roots. I always get excited when there is a new chip. I am really excited that we got the global debut of Snapdragon 4 Gen 2 and to be able to see a four nanometer (process) coming at this price. I remember when I was in the semiconductor industry, the cutting-edge process technology used to be 90 nanometer. Most of the projects used to be at 130 and I remember working on this particular high-end computing platform, which was a 90; that used to be absolutely fascinating at that point. We’ve come such a long way. I always sit back and marvel at how much things have changed so quickly.