"This is rumor control..." to quote one of the most underrated films in the Alien franchise.
It's now rumored that the third largest maker of smartphones on the planet and a Chinese powerhouse is going to release their first-ever laptop. This is big news, especially considering the company sold over 60 million smartphones in 2014. In their homeland, Xiaomi is more popular than Apple and Huawei, and by December of 2014, they became the world's most valuable startup.
Now, they plan on expanding their line of mid-priced, mid-spec'd hardware into the realm of laptops. More specifically, Linux-powered laptops.
Some naysayers might be shaking their heads saying this will wind up another vendor making promises that will only fall flat when the public gets product in hand and is utterly disappointed. You, however, would be wrong. Why? Simple.
Xiaomi has made a massive name for itself bringing custom versions of Android (called MIUI) to its smartphones. So, the Xiaomi faithful are accustomed to working with a variant in their interfaces. That translates to an vanishing barrier to entry for a Linux-powered laptop released by the company.
If the rumor holds true, the laptop would offer a very good price to performance ratio. We're looking at 15-inch hardware built by partners Inventec (makers of notebooks for HP, Acer, and Toshiba) and Foxconn (who manufactures Apple iPhones, iPads, and games consoles for Playstation, Microsoft, and Nintendo). The rumored price for this Linux laptop? $470.00 (USD).
This is where it gets interesting. Xiaomi is something special. They are one of those companies that could churn out a box of coal and, overnight, build up a frenzy of excitement over said box. If there's one thing Xiaomi has managed to get right, it's brand loyalty. Among the youth of China, Xiaomi can do no wrong. Any time the company releases a product, it leads to a massive impact immediately.
That, my friends, is exactly what Linux has been missing... a frenzy. Xiaomi can bring it and do so in a very large, very loyal market.
Before you get excited that the Xiaomi might well run your favorite distro du jour, think again. Remember, they chose to set aside a stock Android experience for MIUI. Chances are, they'll do the same thing with the Linux distribution. The thing about Xiaomi is that the experience is key... but not just any old experience.
The Xiaomi experience
That's right, the company doesn't want to release a product with a standard OS running a bunch of pre-installed apps. Instead, they want the user to have the Xiaomi experience. That means, most likely, this laptop will ship with a Xiaomi-fied Linux distribution. If I were to venture a guess, the laptop might well wind up with a GUI similar to that of MIUI running on top of Ubuntu.
What happens with this is that the Xiaomi faithful will want more. They'll get the Xiaomi experience in laptop form and demand will exceed supply. Next step? More Linux-based hardware. Xiaomi could expand the experience on the laptop by enabling the running of Android apps and even enabling access to the MI App Store.
At the moment, this is only a rumor. Rumor control from Xiaomi smacked us in the face once before, back when it was purported that the company was to release a MacBook Air clone. That hoax did, however, have a few things in common with the latest rumor. First and foremost, the 15.6 inch screen. Second, the custom Linux OS.
Of course, no production schedule has been set. So, in the end, this could wind up nothing more than a rumor. But it does make perfect sense that Xiaomi would make their way into the realm of laptops. They already produce smartphones, fitness trackers (the Mi Band, which is the second-most popular wearable in the world), TVs, tablets, lightbulbs, routers, air purifiers, and more. Why not expand into laptops?
Should this rumor come to fruition, Linux could well have made the connection it has been in desperate need of making. A massive market, led by a company that can whip up an overnight frenzy for nearly anything, and a custom Linux distribution in line with the Xiaomi experience. That would be a major win for Linux.
How do you imagine this will play out for Xiaomi and Linux? Share your thoughts in the discussion thread below.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.