Little Rice Smartphones Xiaomi and the Chinese Dream by Clay Shirky Columbia Global Reports HD


There’s this question that’s been asked
constantly which is, “when does China acquire a sort of industrial design
culture?” I’m the author of “Little Rice” which is a book about Xiaomi, the Chinese phone company that’s now exporting both hardware and services globally, and what
that, what that means for the company, for China, for the world. It’s a book that’s
published by the Columbia global reports imprint. So, this book is a result of me
getting lost in the Shanghai subway. I got out of the wrong stop and I walked
out into the middle of a mall which is a completely ordinary occurrence, there are so many malls in Shanghai, and when you walk out of the subway very often you were in
a mall and so wandering through this unfamiliar place I did the thing that
people who design confusing malls want you to do which is I slowed down and
started looking around and there was this booth selling phones and I needed
a– needed a phone at the time, so there was a nice black one, very sleek and stylish and sorta pointed and you know we did that thing of people who don’t share a
common language going, “I have some money, you have a phone surely we can work this
out” and I walk out of there with this with this new phone it says “MI 3” on it
that’s all I know about it and every day on that campus from picking up the phone
for the next several days if I took the phone out to do anything one of our
Chinese students would say “where did you get that?” Didn’t even ask what kind of
phone it was, they all knew it was a Xiaomi phone, that this was the hot brand
which I had not understood when I bought it and so I would talk to them about it
they said “it’s the Chinese Apple, this is our big design firm” you know this these
are the people who are figuring out how to do industrial design the way Apple
does it the way Samsung does and it was apparent that this was not an accident
that the phone they made was the result of years of planning and work and that
they were intending to do it again. So I started tracking them and they just kept
getting more and more interesting and when Nick Lemann, who stepped down as the Dean of the Columbia Journalism school, announced he was starting Columbia Global Reports, I thought Xiaomi has its sights set not just on being a
Chinese design firm but on being a global design firm, maybe this will be
interesting and that’s when he and I started talking about tracking Xiaomi’s
spread outside of China as a way to think about some of the global forces
going on today. What Xiaomi I think shows it that the answer the question
“when will they acquire a design culture?” is for at least some products 2013, right,
that’s that’s when this the MI 3 which is the phone that I think was
their real design breakthrough– it didn’t look like anything else the market, it was a very stylish phone– that said there are people inside the company thinking very
hard about design. That’s part of what makes Xiaomi such a company to watch in China so many people have looked to Lei Jun who’s the CEO as an example of, “Oh that’s how we should do it.” So China’s design culture is kicking off now and
will again spread to all of these all of these other products. But what’s really interesting about Xiaomi is their their next phone, the MI 4, is very close to
an iPhone 5, and then the Note which is my current phone is very much like a
Samsung Galaxy S5. So the company, rather than saying we are a design firm, or we
are a sort of a copying and shipping firm, just operates across the spectrum
and that’s not something we’re used to in the U.S. it’s usually you know your
Sony or your Apple it’s it’s all branded or your asus and acer where you’re just
kind of white boxing these these devices Xiaomi can operate across that range
and one of the interesting things about the company is is it ever going to
settle down and be design-centric for all of its product lines or is there
some advantage to both the kind of design copying that they have
historically done that many Chinese companies have historically done and keeping a design-centric product line at the same time? They’re in that world now which to an American eye looks unstable but in fact that may be a new pattern and
that’s I think one of the big open questions for the company

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