Chinese wearable giant Xiaomi is eyeing its entry into the smartwatch world, and the company's CEO has confirmed that it's about to go head-to-head with Google and Apple.
After months of idle speculation, including the manufacturing partner Huami's insistence that it would appear in Q2 2016, Liu De, the co-founder and vice president of Xiaomi revealed in April that its smartwatch will land in the 'second half of 2016'.
Essential reading: Xiaomi Mi Band 2 guide
The Xiaomi smartwatch is one of the worst kept secrets in tech, and VP Hugo Barra (of Google fame) took to Facebook back in 2014 to confirm it was looking at the medium.
Since then Xiaomi has seen immense popularity of its Mi Band and Mi Band Pulse fitness tracker, in no small part aided by their ridiculously low price points.
We'll try and keep the rumours about this smartwatch brief, as they're all just a bunch of puff and nonsense so far. Huami's CEO said the device sported a screen, and that's all he's given away so far. We won't credit baseless specs and price tattle here, but it's the latter which is key: a sub price point would really put the Chinese cat among the Apple and Google pigeons.
1. Will it come on sale in the US/UK?
This looks unlikely at first. The Xiaomi Mi Band 2 (above), which went on sale on 7 June, is still China only, and only a fraction of its devices make it to the West.
In fact, officially, even the Mi Band Pulse isn't technically available over here yet. Hungry Xiaomi fans and smartwatch bargain hunters will be able to pick up a smartwatch from any number of resellers, but in the past Xiaomi has been painfully slow in globalising apps and software features. So even when the smartwatch gets unveiled, it still could be a painful wait.
2. Can it sell enough?
You can't produce a smartwatch for under $100 without flogging a fair few of them. Xiaomi's access to the Chinese market has served it well but it's only recently become a big name in the West.
In order to really challenge the big guns of smartwatches, it has to go global. Well, it's started to tackle that problem. It has a Western store now and it's signed a deal with Microsoft which included patent sharing. Making and signing those deals is the start of its integration into the West. With friends at Microsoft, it can really start to deliver.
3. What OS will it run?
We still don't know what software the Mi Smartwatch will run, but the idea of full fat Android fills us with fear. Xiaomi's VP is Hugo Barra (above), a former top Googler who could have the sway to get Android Wear onboard. That would be the dream.
Only the big tech brands have managed to launch Android Wear devices so far, each one attempting premium positioning – if Xiaomi can secure Google's services, it doesn't have to turn to full Android (clunky), Tizen (Samsung will drive the price up) or a proprietary OS (please no).
Perhaps we're just being snobby about smartwatches. Vector's proprietary OS and software is fine, as is Pebble's. You don't need to jump in bed with one of the big players, but a Xiaomi Android Wear device would be so sweet...
4. How cheap can it be?
Price is a big factor holding back wearable tech and this is Xiaomi's area of expertise. The doomed Com1's premise was delivering Android Wear for $125, before Google shot it down.
Xiaomi has the chance to make a real splash if it can keep costs down to under $100. No-one has managed to crack the budget end of the market yet, and the ubiquity of cheap OEM smartwatches is evidence enough of consumer desire for cheaper offerings.
5. Will it look awful?
Design and looks are a big part of wearable tech, and we've marked down many attempts for looking terrible. And judging by the design attitude to the Mi Band, things aren't looking promising.
Sure it's lightweight and practical. But it looks $20. And that's not such a good look for watches. So does Xiaomi have the chops to make a smartwatch good enough to wear?
Well, Xiaomi is famed for copying – so just imitating centuries of watchmaking will be fine. If it wants our advice, a round-faced smartwatch will go a long way.
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