Apple to Xiaomi: Easier said than done to become top smartphone vendor

Xiaomi wants to become the top smartphone player in five to ten years

A day after China's Xiaomi said it wanted to become the world's number one smartphone vendor, an Apple executive weighed in and told the Chinese company to hold its horses.

"It is easy to say, it is much more difficult to do," said Bruce Sewell, Apple senior vice president, on Thursday at the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, China.

Sewell made the comment after Xiaomi's CEO Lei Jun said the day before he wanted his company to become the top player in the market within five to ten years. The fast-rising Chinese handset maker briefly became the world's third largest smartphone vendor in the third quarter, trailing behind Apple and Samsung.

Both Sewell and Lei were speakers on a panel featuring executives from leading Chinese and U.S. tech companies. Following Sewell's remark, Lei responded, stating, "what if it does come true?" only to add that Xiaomi was still a small company.

"I believe that no one thought the Xiaomi from three years ago, which just made its first phone, would later rank as the third largest player," Lei added.

Xiaomi and Apple have been butting heads a bit, amid claims that the Chinese company borrows too heavily from the U.S. tech giant's own design ideas. Xiaomi's latest flagship phone, the Mi 4, for example has drawn comments that it resembles older versions of the iPhone.

Last month, Apple's design head Jonathan Ive was asked his thoughts about Xiaomi, and said  "I don't see it as flattery, I'm just talking about this issue in general. I actually see it as theft."

Xiaomi Vice President Hugo Barra was later interviewed and defended against the copycat claims. "Our designers, our engineers, are inspired by great products and by great design out there. And frankly who in today's world isn't?"  he said.

Xiaomi has yet to come to the U.S., and mainly sells its products in China. But starting this year, the company has been expanding to markets in Southeast Asia and India. It has risen quickly, partly by selling cutting-edge Android smartphones at prices much lower than the competition.

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Michael Kan

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