Hugo Barra on what Xiaomi and Google could learn from each other

The ex-Android chief and freshly minted employee of the world's next smartphone superpower tells us how the master can learn from the student, too

It’s been four months since Hugo Barra left his position as VP of the Android platform at Google - and it’s obvious that he’s settling in rather well at Xiaomi as its global vice president.

Tiger Brother (true story, we saw his Chinese name and that's the literal translation) is masterminding the four-year-old smartphone company's expansion beyond China. Given that the company is already responsible for some shockingly accomplished handsets, Xiaomi is a name you should remember, whether you can pronounce it or not.

The ex-Googler shared with us what the upstart Xiaomi could learn from Google, and vice versa.

Learning how to localise quickly from Google

"Xiaomi has a lot to learn from Google in terms of becoming a global company. It has operations in so many countries and also managed to localise itself very efficiently around the world, adapting to businesses quickly. Google is a truly global technology company and we have a long way to go."

Google - the geek’s best friend

"Google has also been very successful at building a brand that's a little bit geeky, funny and awkward. Quirky is the best way to describe it. It’s a brand that people love with a different heart, than the way they love any other brand. They think of Google as their geeky friend, and I think it’s a very unique and honourable place to be, certainly speaking as a techie.

"I think Xiaomi has a lot to learn from there as well, how we can become the geeky friend and build that sort of brand and aura."

Xiaomi - a company that moves products faster than Google

"Google has, for a while, been trying to get good at building hardware and certainly has come a long way with a lot of innovations. Obviously, the Nexus program, which I was a part of, and Google Glass are some examples. Google builds all of its data centres and things like Street View cameras internally. But it still hasn’t truly sort of broken into the mass market consumer hardware products.

"Google can learn, if it wants, about how to apply Xiaomi's really fast moving software approach to building hardware. We build hardware kind of like how we build software, given the short cycles, small teams and speed of iterations. And not only Google, but the world in general, can be inspired by what we’ve done."

More after the break...

Xiaomi’s strong relationship with millions of users - take note, Google

"It’s possible to build a strong relationship with a large number of users. That’s addressed in two ways if you look at how Xiaomi works. One is, of course, our tone of voice and social media efforts, how we talk to people. We have managed to strike the right tone in Greater China and hopefully in Singapore, being geeky and friendly. We respond to comments and leave none unanswered.

What Xiaomi and Google could learn from each other

"The second way is our feedback and forums, where we receive bug reports, feature suggestions, complaints, ideas and so on. We empower the community to help us collect the feedback. In China for example we have well over 10 million registered users and 10 categories of super users from being someone managing a small discussion topic to large discussion areas. These are not employees, they are volunteers who thoughtfully want to help us. That’s the only way we can listen to 10 million plus users at a time and take their feedback into consideration."

Xiaomi loves its power users - something Google used to do

"From a product perspective, Google used to be very focused on power users in the beginning but it has largely gone away over the last few years. At Xiaomi, we build features that the power users are really gonna like and others may not find, and build as many and do a good job. Building for a power user is the best way to build an amazing product. It does not go against the goal of making a simple product, those can live together."

Inspire and be inspired by Xiaomi, Google, even Apple

"I think it’s unfair to say we’re copying iOS or anyone else. In an ecosystem of designers and product managers, everyone inspires everyone else. I’m sure you’ll find features in iOS that are inspired by us - for example, the transparent status bar. We live in an ecoysytem where there’s inspiration all over the place.

"Android, iOS, and even Windows Mobile, have all created new design patterns that have inspired designers all around the world. Look at the Facebook messenger app (Paper), it sounds so much like Windows Mobile. I think MIUI has a unique visual identity today and there are things no one else is doing, and things that are way ahead of the curve."

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