Let’s get some facts straight first. MIUI has been around for a while. More accurately, for 5 years. It is not a new thing, and it is definitely not a “tacky skin” that some people may think of the moment they hear it comes on top of a Chinese phone.
However, the hard truth is that MIUI is viewed the same way, if not worse than, the infamous TouchWiz from Samsung. Xiaomi has quite a lot of catching up to do in terms of their software, and that’s probably the only fight that they will have to truly win in the US and Europe, where people are used to Nexus phones, iPhones, and Samsung phones.
The Samsung anomaly.
“But didn’t you just say that Samsung phones are bad with their software?” Yes. However, sales and sheer marketing power of Samsung made TouchWiz tolerable to a lot of people. The fact that Samsung is still selling millions of units is not because of their software, but because everyone knows about Samsung and their Galaxy lineup, and they simply put up with their software for a year or two until the new version comes out. But even now, TouchWiz has improved drastically by trimming the fat in the latest iterations of Galaxy phones – S7 and S7 Edge.
This proves that consumers nowadays are asking manufacturers not to completely overhaul their android experience, but to keep it tight and simple. This is what MIUI is not, and it is scary to think what would happen to the MIUI if and when it comes to the west properly.
Imagine: International Mi5. Right now.
Now let’s imagine for a second that Xiaomi Mi5 arrived in both US and Europe as is right now for India: Reviews would go out praising the performance, build quality, overall aesthetics, but then the short end of the stick would go to MIUI. Why? Because people are simply not used to having no app tray, all new set of gestures, completely new apps, and bare bones support of Google Services that feel tacked on top of the MIUI. That is not good. Even installing apps from Google Play Store would make those apps show up as ugly squared off icons with boxes around them, feeling unnatural and unwelcoming to the user.
I remember my first time when I tried MIUI. I had to browse YouTube for video tutorials on tips and tricks on how to use MIUI effectively, and how to force-install Play Services and Store due to the rom that I had on the Chinese model. Thankfully, that last part would not be a problem but still – it tells a lot on how bare-bones Google services support is on top of any Xiaomi device.
You have to commit to MIUI and its software.
Which brings us to MIUI and what it would take for you to fully enjoy your new Mi phone. You would have to fully embrace their apps, their ecosystem, and roll with it, since flashing a brand new ROM on it simply defeats the purpose of this phone, and 95% of the consumerbase would not do it anyway. However, Google Play Services, as mentioned, will still feel patched on top of the heavily modified version of Android 5.0/6.0/7.0.
Another big “problem” is that Xiaomi rarely updates their core Android version on time. This is due to MIUI not really depending on the core Android version to run well, and it does update faster than any other ROM out there. Unfortunately, that is not enough to persuade consumers to look at MIUI and say “gee, I wish my Android looked like this”.
It will be a while until Xiaomi makes people love MIUI, and that’s harsh truth. Until then, Samsung will keep trimming their TouchWiz to a point where only a few minor things remain due to backlash of reviewers, and their Galaxy lineup will remain dominant in the Android market at least in the west.
So what should they do then?
The best advice I could give to the Xiaomi team is to make MIUI as least offensive as possible. Trim down everything proprietary that acts as a double app. Make Google Services feel at home on your international rom. Don’t force users to your apps just because you think they are better. Only then you will be able to sell your amazing hardware and not make every consumer regret their purchase a month into the phone due to its confusing and heavy ROM that makes things more complicated than they should be.
Again, MIUI has the advantage of being one of the oldest and most developed ROMs out there. However, that alone, while being mainly in China and India, does not help to initiate worldwide domination of the market that is too used to either stock android, TouchWiz or iOS for a long time now. There needs to be a sense of accommodation of those people when they get their first Mi phone, and it needs to feel good – the transition, that is. Xiaomi is already doing a very good job proving that they can make solid accessories, and those are going to give consumers confidence to buy a phone next time from them as well. That is how I started – I bought a battery pack, then headphones, then Mi Band and then their phones.
As for me, I already love MIUI. However, I live and work in China, and that’s one big plus in terms of convenience of apps and sheer utility that I get from having a Xiaomi phone. Sometimes I even wonder if I need Google Play Services since I have all, and even better, Chinese app equivalents that work great here.
Good luck, Xiaomi. Let’s hope that Mi6 will be the one!
I will now leave you with a gallery of tasteless, proprietary skins/ROMs from other manufacturers like Oppo, Vivo, ZTE, Lenovo, Meizu and more. You will quickly realize how much better MIUI is already compared to these no-name software stickers (also how much they directly copy MIUI and their hardware design). I don’t even know how they can pride themselves on their software and advertise it as an amazing experience…