Xiaomi to offer a $13 wristworn activity tracker in China

By Jonah Comstock

Mi BandChinese electronics company Xiaomi has announced a new fitness band that will retail in China for just $13 (79 RMB). The device will track activity, act as a silent alarm, and do something novel for fitness-tracking wristbands: unlock the user's phone in lieu of a password. PC World covered the launch event where CEO Lei Jun announced the device.

Although Xiaomi is just starting to sell devices outside of China, it has risen quickly to relevance there by selling smartphones and tablets just above cost, and bypassing traditional sales models in favor of online sales and word-of-mouth marketing. This strategy made it China's third largest smartphone maker this quarter, actually outstripping Apple, according to PC World. The Mi Band, as the tracking device is called, could potentially bring the same disruption to the fitness tracker market in China. 

The $13 price point is unheard of in the wristworn fitness tracking market, where most devices range from $60 to $200. One of the closest contenders in the direct to consumer space, Fitbug, still charges $49.99 for its Orb device.

The unlock feature is also interesting, although it's currently unclear whether it will only work with Xiaomi phones. The band also reportedly tracks sleep and activity and has a 30-day battery life. It has no built-in display, so users will likely have to use a connected app to view their fitness stats. It is waterproof, and will come in a variety of colors and styles.

At the launch event where the Mi Band was announced, the main event was the launch of Xiaomi's Mi 4, an Android smartphone resembling an iPhone 5 but selling for about half the price ($322). Xiaomi has been derided as an Apple copycat at times, both for their presentation style and their product design, but the Mi Band resembles nothing in Apple's current product portfolio.

For US consumers, it could be a while before the low-cost device is available for purchase -- if ever. Xiaomi currently sells its products in China, Singapore, Malaysia, and India. Indonesia, Thailand, and Turkey are on the company's horizon, but they haven't announced any plans to head to the US. They did hire a prominent American to run their international expansion efforts, though -- ex-Google executive Hugo Barra. In a recent interview with The Verge, Barra admitted a push into the US market was unlikely.

"The US is an incredibly competitive battleground, and we have to pick our battles," he said. "One step at a time. One country at a time."