Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi Inc on Tuesday launched the world's first smartphone with an ultrasonic fingerprint scanner in a move to regain market share that has been taken by lesser-known counterparts.
During the autumn product launch conference in Beijing, Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun showcased the long-awaited fingerprint identification technology, known as an ultrasonic fingerprint scanner, on its new flagship smartphone, the Mi 5s.
The scanner is said to work quite differently from current capacitive models. It can keep out dirt, grease and moisture while keeping its reader button out of sight.
The Mi 5s, which resembles the iPhone 7 series in terms of color and body design, is unlikely to confront its Apple competitor until next year. The next generation of iPhone devices in 2017 will reportedly offer a similar scanner.
The founder of the "Apple of China" took aim repeatedly at iPhones and Samsung Galaxy S7 models at the conference, saying the Mi 5s, priced from 1,999 yuan ($299.8), can present better images and videos.
However, it seems that the Mi 5s doesn't attract consumers like Shang Lin.
"The new fingerprint identification ability sounds good. A major change it would bring is to allow users to unlock the phone more quickly. But what's the big deal? I did not find any appealing function in the Mi 5s that could drive me to change my iPhone," the Beijing-based 30-year-old white-collar worker told the Global Times Tuesday.
As the smartphone industry matures, differentiated products are widely perceived by experts as something that handset brands can use to stand out from the fierce competition.
In a report issued by U.S. market consultancy Gartner in August, Anshul Gupta, Gartner's research director, attributed the success of China's lesser-known Oppo brand to features such as an anti-shake camera optimized for selfies and rapid charge technology.
In the second quarter of 2016, Oppo surpassed Xiaomi to become the world's fourth-largest smartphone vendor by shipments, according to Gartner.
Among the world's top five smartphone vendors, Oppo exhibited the highest year-on-year growth rate in the quarter at 129 percent.
Wang Yanhui, the secretary-general of the Mobile China Alliance, took a wait-and-see attitude toward the prospects of Xiaomi's smartphone segment.
"We could see that Lei has beefed up efforts in the release of new products recently, which could help lift the company's phone sales. But it will be hard for the company to reclaim its leadership if it cannot make up for its shortcomings in physical sales channels," Wang told the Global Times Tuesday.
Physical stores are still the main channel for phone purchases in China and other developing countries in Southeast Asia, he said.
The Xiaomi CEO acknowledged the shortcomings of the online sales model, saying the company plans to open three to four physical stores around China every month, aiming for a total of 1,000 physical outlets within the following three to four years.