The king of budget smartphones is looking to gain back some of its old mojo by taking to the sky and undercutting competitors’ prices in an all new market — drones.
The much anticipated Mi Drone made by Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi was finally unveiled yesterday. As you’d expect, it’s priced much lower than comparable drones made by its top competitor and current market leader, Shenzhen-based DJI.
The Mi Drone model with a 4K camera and 2 km range will be priced at 2,999 yuan ($456). A version with a lower resolution 1080p camera and 1 km range will only cost you 2,499 yuan ($380). While that’s not quite as cheap as 699 yuan rumors predicted on the web earlier this year, it’s still a lot cheaper than DJI’s Phantom 3 4K, which has a range of 1.2 km and a price tag of 4,999 yuan ($762).
Pre-orders are set to begin tomorrow and a beta version will be given to select users in July, but still no timeline on when the final product will go on sale, or if you’ll be able to buy it outside of China.
Xiaomi vice president Hugo Barra says that his company is trying to sell drones to a wider audience than ever before with models that can stay airborne for nearly half an hour and are “insanely easy to use thanks to numerous autopilot options” — not to mention super cheap. Check out the specs:
– 4-propeller system with detachable shields
– 17.4V battery 5100mAh, 27 minutes non-stop flying
– 1080p or 4K UHD camera, with 104° wide-angle lens
– 4K camera at 3840 x 2160 pixels; supports recording of stills in RAW format
– 720p live video with low latency from up to 2km distance
– Camera attached to a 3-axis gimbal, stabilizes up to 2000 vibrations per second
– Unbelievably lightweight design
– GPS + GLONASS + vision-based positioning for max precision
– Autopilot options: automatic take-off + landing, waypoint flight path planning, tap to fly on map, circle an object on the ground
– Intelligently detects low battery and returns home automatically
– Real-time location tracking for easy retrieval even post crash
– Hovers automatically at the edge of no-fly zones
– Built-in PCB antenna array in remote control for maximum reach
– Modular design and foldable landing gear
– RMB 2499 for 1080p, RMB 2999 for 4K UHD version
However, whether Xiaomi’s formula for success in the smartphone arena will readily translate over to drones is still up for debate. Engadget’s Chinese editor-in-chief Richard Lai told the BBC that the company has some work to do in winning over potential customers:
The feature set between the Mi Drone and DJI’s Phantom 3 is almost identical – they can both be made to return home and circle around a point of interest – but Xiaomi’s product is so competitively priced you have to wonder if it can make much profit.
So, the new drone will probably appeal to beginners. But experienced fliers want reliability and a brand with experience, and DJI has spent years refining its technology. It will take Xiaomi some time to prove itself as we still don’t know how reliable its drones are, the quality of its video footage or how well its software will work.
Speculation about Xiaomi and drones began last year with Guangzhou Feimi Electronic Technology applying for drone patents with and without Xiaomi. The start-up company itself was founded by an investment arm of Xiaomi in 2014. It was even rumored that the Mi Drone would launch last year, however the company is said to have dropped the idea because their creation happened to bear a too close resemblance to the DJI Phantom drone.
The Chinese electronics giant has earned the nickname xiaotou (thief) due to its reputation for shamelessly reproducing gadgets from competitors then offering them at a fraction of the price. This include’s Xiaomi’s version of the GoPro, which was unveiled last March. In 2014, the company rolled out a phone-controlled air purifier very similar to one made by a Japanese company and Jony Ive, Apple’s senior vice president of design, even remarked about constant comparisons between the iPhone and Xiaomi handsets during a tech summit last year, saying, “It is theft and it is lazy. I don’t think it is ok at all.” Last year, Xiaomi even helped a Segway “copycat” company buy Segway with an $80 million investment.
While Xiaomi explores various other markets, its flagship smartphone sales are slipping. The company gave itself a sales of target of 100 million smartphones for 2015, but only managed to sell 71 million. Same story this year with other domestic smartphone makers, like Oppo and Vivo, eating into its market share. Considering the small number of drones that are sold each year (700,000 globally in 2015), the Mi Drone isn’t likely to change Xiaomi’s fortunes.
But hey, it looks pretty neat. Check out the promo video below: