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Xiaomi Hires Google’s Barra to Boost Growth Beyond China

Incoming Xiaomi Intl Business Development Head Hugo Barra
Hugo Barra, then vice president of product management for Android at Google Inc., pauses while speaking at the Google I/O Annual Developers Conference in San Francisco on May 15, 2013. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Xiaomi Corp., the smartphone maker that outsells Apple Inc. in China, said it hired a Google Inc. vice president as part of a push to find growth opportunities outside its home market.

Hugo Barra, who helped oversee Google’s Android product management, will join Xiaomi in October as head of international business development, Lei Jun, founder and chief executive officer of the Beijing-based company, said in a post on Sina Corp.’s Weibo microblog today. His post was confirmed by Raine Zhang, a Xiaomi spokeswoman.

The appointment signals Xiaomi’s intention to take on Apple and Samsung Electronics Inc. overseas after building market share by selling handsets priced at less than a third of the iPhone 5 in China. Lenovo Group Ltd., Huawei Technologies Co. and ZTE Corp. all used the local market as a springboard to become among the largest smartphone makers in the world.

“Hugo Barra can bring his international experience on products and relationship with ecosystem partners to Xiaomi,” said Nicole Peng, the China research director for Canalys. “This can be a huge step for Xiaomi if they make it right.”

Xiaomi, backed by investors including Temasek Holdings Pte and Qiming Venture Partners, this month said it completed a round of funding that gave it a valuation of $10 billion. Lei said in June the company this year would more than double handset sales to 15 million.

International Challenges

The company has added markets in Hong Kong and Taiwan, Zhang said in an e-mail today. She declined to comment on any other markets the company may add.

“The biggest challenge is talent and telecom operator relationships in overseas markets,” said James Yan, a Beijing-based analyst with researcher International Data Corp.

In the China smartphone market, Xiaomi rose to sixth place in the quarter ending June 30 from eighth a year earlier, Canalys said Aug. 9. Apple was seventh.

Xiaomi has won sales with inexpensive handsets running Google’s Android system. While Apple sells the iPhone 5 on its China website from 5,288 yuan ($864), Xiaomi’s most expensive handset is 1,699 yuan.

Starting this month, Xiaomi began sales of its first device for China Mobile, the world’s largest phone company with 745 million subscribers at the end of July. The handset is priced at 799 yuan. Apple has yet to offer a device through China Mobile.

China Mobile

Barra was a public face for some of Google’s key efforts around Android, an operating system that the company provides to device makers at no cost. Barra spoke at Google events, including the annual developers conference held in San Francisco in May.

In July, he touted an updated version of Google’s latest Nexus 7 tablet that uses Android software at a press event.

“We wish Hugo Barra the best,” Mountain View, California-based Google said in an e-mailed statement. “We’ll miss him at Google and we’re excited that he is staying within the Android ecosystem.”

AllThingsD reported earlier that Barra was leaving Google for Xiaomi.

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