18 January 2019
Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun is reportedly setting up an in-house division to oversee research and development on phone cameras. Photo: Bloomberg
Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun is reportedly setting up an in-house division to oversee research and development on phone cameras. Photo: Bloomberg

Why Xiaomi is focusing on camera development

The camera has become a key selling point for smartphones as people now use their phones, instead of the traditional camera, to take pictures of every aspect of their daily lives. As such, the quality of a phone camera has become a very important battleground among smartphone makers from Apple to Samsung to Huawei.

Xiaomi, which has ambitions to become a leading global brand, is putting more attention to this phone feature. It has set up an independent unit to oversee the camera’s research and development.

According to Chinese media, Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun sent an internal email that details the creation of an in-house camera department within the organization.

Lei said photography is one of the most important features of modern smartphones, and this division will enable future Mi and Redmi phones to better compete with the top brands. Zhu Dan, the director of electrical engineering at Xiaomi, was appointed head of the new department.

Xiaomi’s move reflects a realization that its products need to improve their camera functions in order to be at par with or surpass the offerings of peers.

In the latest DxO rankings, Huawei Technologies is considered the top camera phone maker, securing a record score of 109, while Xiaomi’s flagship Mi Mix 2S, as well as Apple’s iPhone X, obtained a score of 97.

Xiaomi’s phones are doing well in the domestic and overseas markets. But the tech company has been receiving a lot of flak for the inferior quality of its phone cameras.

People understand that one buys a Xiaomi smartphone for its relatively high quality at an affordable price, which means they don’t expect much when it comes to the quality of its phone camera.

But since Xiaomi is now exploring the high-end market with the launch of its Mix series, people’s expectations are rising. They are now saying Xiaomi has no right to ask for over 3,000 yuan (US$470) for the handset when it has done nothing to improve the quality of the phone camera.

That should be the reason why Xiaomi launched Mix 2S in such a short period of time after it launched Mix 2 in September last year. The Mix 2S is meant to demonstrate to its users and potential investors the company’s commitment to take the quality of its phones to next level in order to stand toe to toe with the top players.

Huawei, on the other hand, has gone a long way after it partnered with Leica to integrate the latter’s technology into the Chinese phone maker’s phone camera. The company also hired a former Nokia engineer who had developed the Nokia Pureview camera to lead its camera development. Such efforts have generated positive feedback from customers, enabling Huawei to jump to the top three in terms of global market share.

Huawei’s latest offering, the P20 Pro, features a three-camera system that makes use of artificial intelligence to greatly improve the quality of its pictures.

The phone’s camera can detect a human face and automatically change to portrait mode, thereby enhancing the focus on the subject and the depth of field. The photo’s resolution stands out when compared to pictures from other camera phones.

In fact, a premium-quality phone camera is now a killer application for new smartphones to lure phone buyers.

Xiaomi is aware of its limitations in this department, and that it must do everything as soon as possible to remedy the handicap.

On Tuesday Chinese media reported that Xiaomi will unveil its second flagship smartphone this year in Shenzhen in late May. Market observers believe that Xiaomi could launch Mi 7 and Mi 8 during the event.

The phone could be equipped with a high-quality camera with built-in 3D structured light technology, which enables the owner to use their face to unlock the phone, as well as take beautiful selfies. Mi 8 would be the first Android smartphone using structured light technology.

Xiaomi has built a strong momentum starting from last year. Its first-quarter shipment jumped 87.8 percent year on year to 13.2 million units, boosting its market share by 4 percentage points to 8.4 percent and surpassing OPPO to be the fourth-biggest smartphone brand.

It is obvious that Xiaomi’s next target is to dislodge Huawei to be the third in the table. With a dedicated team working to improve its phone cameras, Xiaomi may be able to achieve that goal sooner than the market expects.

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EJ Insight writer

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