Google has been hit by the departure of one of its leading talents. Xiaomi Tech, a fast-growing Chinese maker of cheap smartphones, has hired Hugo Barra, a senior Google Android executive, to spearhead its nascent global expansion.
Xiaomi's founder Lei Jun said on his Weibo feed on Wednesday that Barra, who led product development for Google's Android mobile software, will join the Chinese company in October as head of international business development. "Barra will be responsible for Xiaomi's global business expansion," Lei said on Weibo, China's equivalent of Twitter.
Xiaomi is known for portraying itself as China's answer to Apple, an image that its billionaire founder has fostered since he started the company in 2010. Lei often dresses in the black tops, jeans and trainers favoured by the late Steve Jobs.
Along with fellow Chinese smartphone makers Huawei and ZTE, Xiaomi has aggressively seized the market share by combining lower prices with quality gadgets, putting pressure on its rivals Apple and Samsung.
Xiaomi's latest smartphone, the Hongmi, sells for $130 (£84), much less than the $770 iPhone5 or the latest Samsung Galaxy model at $470 cost of the latest Samsung Galaxy model, currently the market leader in China.
In the second quarter Xiaomi sold more smartphones than Apple in China, currently the world's biggest smartphone market, according to the IT consultancy Canalys. The company controls an estimated 5% of the Chinese smartphone market, compared with 18% for Samsung but ahead of Apple, which has 4.8% of the market.
Chinese mobile phone makers are a growing force in the global smartphone market, already accounting for about one fifth of worldwide sales. Lenovo, which has already overtaken Hewlett-Packard as the largest seller of personal computers globally, announced this week that combined sales of its phones and tablets now outstrip sales of its traditional computers.
Often mentioned as a potential buyer for its distressed Canadian rival BlackBerry, Lenovo's smartphone sales have grown 144% year on year. While the company's laptops can be found in most branches of John Lewis and Dixons, 95% of its smartphones are still in China, where it is number two behind South Korea's Samsung. As the PC market fades, Lenovo has made no secret of its desire to expand overseas. Its chief executive, Yang Yuanqing, espouses what he calls a "two fist" strategy – defending home turf while attacking abroad.
Meanwhile Google's co-founder Sergey Brin has separated from his wife, the entrepreneur Anne Wojcicki, according to a spokesman, in a move that could sever one of the technology industry's highest-profile partnerships. Brin, who is worth around $22.8bn (£14.7bn) through his shareholding in Google, has a prenuptial agreement with his wife.
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