One Amazing Mi Fan Odyssey

Published May 15, 2021, 7:50 AM

by Lionell Macahilig

Years before Xiaomi officially entered the Philippine market, the brand had already been capturing the attention of many Filipino consumers, especially the tech-savvy ones, despite the presence of more established local and international smartphone players at the time.

One of those consumers was Romar Cabinta, a self-confessed Mi fan until now.

Philippine team

Way back in 2012, I know Xiaomi as a software company that brought MIUI based on the Android operating system. During that time, I was using a locally-branded smartphone. I was younger and had no source of income to buy more expensive options. I was really impressed with the interface of MIUI, so I ported it to my locally-branded phone. Wala pang Xiaomi sa Philippines in 2012,” he recalled.

As proof of being a Mi fan, Cabinta had joined forums that were financially sustained by other Mi fans. These communities have been around before Xiaomi was launched in the country in 2014.

“My first Xiaomi device was the Mi 3. If I’m not mistaken, it was the first Xiaomi device released internationally and it made noise. I used to read tech blogs and the Mi 3 created noise not only because of its competitive pricing but also because the brand ensured that its specifications are flagship. During that time, I had no money but I was able to get one as a giveaway through social media. My first Xiaomi device was not bought but won,” he said.

The Mi 3 was just the starting point of Cabinta’s series of Xiaomi device upgrades through the years. It was followed by the Mi 4, which he also won through another forum giveaway, then the Mi 5, Mi Note, Mi 8, Mi 9, Mi 10, Mi Note 10 Pro, and the Mi Pad, which he had at the time when tablets were an “in” thing among Filipinos.

These upgrades not only converted his family members into “Mi fans” (as he usually passed his old gadgets to them) but he also realized what makes Xiaomi devices stand out amid the cutthroat smartphone competition.

“What makes Xiaomi devices outstanding is MIUI which I consider jam-packed with features that I do not normally see on stock Android. The usual third-party apps that I had to install to extend the features of my previous phones are present on MIUI. You no longer have to install many apps and that saves a lot of phone storage,” Cabinta said.

“Another thing that makes Xiaomi devices outstanding is the price-specifications ratio. Any brand can create powerful devices and compete with one another. Only Xiaomi, however, can take those flagship specs to very competitive price points. So doon nagkakatalo. Any brand can put the most powerful chip in their devices but not all can offer them to consumers at competitive price points like Xiaomi,” he added.

Cabinta with Hugo Barra (extreme left), a former vice president at Xiaomi.

Cabinta was not only lucky in winning Xiaomi smartphones. The brand also became instrumental in making him win a longer-term prize: a career with one of the world’s largest smartphone makers.

“When Xiaomi officially entered the Philippines in 2014, it launched a creative contest which I joined. My entry was liked by Xiaomi representatives, including one of the company’s top executives, Hugo Barra. He specifically highlighted my entry on his page to show his appreciation. Of course, I won a Mi,” he recalled.

“A few days later, the Xiaomi manager approached and offered me to work as a freelancer to help her with the graphics design of the company. I accepted the offer then I started to work as a freelancer. Two months later, I received a call from the marketing head of the Xiaomi global team and asked me if I could work as a regular employee for Xiaomi Philippines and the entire Southeast Asia market. I accepted the offer,” he continued.

Cabinta has been working as a graphics design lead at Xiaomi Philippines until now.

His career at the company also gave him a chance to visit different Southeast Asian countries and the Xiaomi headquarters in Beijing where he trained and worked closely with a multinational marketing team. The opportunity helped him a lot in understanding different cultures. Today, Xiaomi has a very diverse culture and communicates with different nationalities. The trips helped him understand the needs of each market and the kind of Mi community present in every country.

Giving Back to the Mi Fan Community

Back in the Philippines, Cabinta noted that the local Mi community stands out amid other Mi communities in other parts of the globe. He noted that Filipinos are one of the most engaging and most passionate Mi fans in the world.

“I think Filipinos are the most active on social media. We get the highest engagement among other countries and it’s a good thing that the Mi community in the Philippines is very active and I’m proud to be a part of it,” he said.

“There are around 129,000 Mi community members in the country, half of which are active on the Mi forums. Adding to that, the registered number of Mi community members does not actually represent the entire Mi fan community in the Philippines. For example, on Facebook, we have 1.7 million fans. We at Xiaomi consider every owner of a Xiaomi device as a Mi fan. Considering that, it is more than those numbers. And of course, there are those who are loyal Xiaomi followers who have been there since the time when Xiaomi was just starting in the country,” he added.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Xiaomi had meetups and photowalks to show the importance of Mi fans to the brand. Xiaomi officially started the Mi community in 2017.

“Most of our activities have been online since the pandemic started. Knowing that Mi fans have been active and are into photography, we had launched the ShotByMi contest. So far, of all the countries and regions, the Philippines recorded the highest number of entries. At least 4,000 entries were submitted. Because of that, the global community is rewarding the Philippines by choosing up to 15 winners,” said Louise Klarke So, Mi community manager.

Another way of giving back to the Filipino Mi community, Xiaomi Philippines is participating in the Global Mi Fan Festival. Xiaomi is treating Mi fans who bought featured smartphones and products from April 6 to May 9 to an exclusive digital concert in partnership with ABS-CBN, KTX, and TFC to be graced by Bamboo on May 23.

“Now, we really focus on online initiatives and leverage the social media platforms and the Mi community as well. This Q2 and Q3, we had just our first corporate social responsibility project for the Mi community. We are planning to stage the Mi virtual run sometime in June or July,” So added.

Mi Fans at the Core of Xiaomi’s Business

While he believes that Xiaomi devices have everything that a consumer would expect from a smartphone, Cabinta, as a Mi fan, also shared some of the features that he would want to see in future Xiaomi smartphone models.

“Xiaomi has been pioneering innovations. Before, I’ve been looking for features that I’ve been expecting to see the features that I want. But with Xiaomi, they are already there. Now that we’re going wireless, I would like to see features that would make things less burdensome and let us do things faster,” he said.

“Xiaomi has been able to create things that make things easier and it has succeeded in doing it. If there was one thing that I would look forward to seeing in Xiaomi devices, I would want to see devices with waterproofing as an additional feature. I’d also want to see Xiaomi devices that support Air Charge and Under-Display Camera for a more immersive screen. I would also like to see Xiaomi putting extra battery capacity to its phones without sacrificing the size and thickness of the phone. I’m looking forward to seeing technologies that are really useful and not just there to show off,” he added.

Insights and feedback from customers, specifically Mi fans, have been instrumental in Xiaomi’s product development and overall growth and this is fully recognized by the people working behind the brand.

“Most of the employees at Xiaomi started as Mi fans. They believe in the products of Xiaomi, they believe in what we do as a company, and these make the job so fulfilling. At the core of our business, we really take care of our Mi fans and we treat them as part of our organization. They are at the core of what we do and we let them participate in product development and marketing of our products. And that is important: to function as one community,” said Tomi Adrias, public relations manager at Xiaomi Philippines.

“I started working at Xiaomi when I was 19. It’s great to work with a company that has the products that you believe in. I don’t have to fake things. I’m part of the marketing team and the things that I am marketing are attractive to me. I believe in the products and I neither have to fake things nor think deeper on how to market them. The products, I know, will sell by themselves. That is how much I believe in our products,” Cabinta concluded.