China's "millet" phone maker hits nearly $1 billion in first half sales

SHANGHAI Thu Jul 26, 2012 7:05am EDT

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SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi Technology said it racked up 6.1 billion yuan ($955 million) in revenue in the first half of this year with sales of more than 3 million devices, tapping rapid growth that is fostering domestic brands and is set to make China the world's biggest smartphone market this year.

Xiaomi, which means "millet" and was inspired by a revolutionary phrase of the early Chinese Communist Party, began selling high-end smartphones last October with specifications rivaling those of big global players, but at a relatively low price.

A Xiaomi smartphone with an 8-megapixel camera and a dual-core processor sells for 1,999 yuan ($310).

China's smartphone market is dominated by HTC Corp, Samsung Electronics, Apple Inc, and a clutch of established domestic players such as Huawei Technologies and ZTE Corp.

With China's smartphone shipments expected to hit up to 140 million in 2012 according to research firms IDC and Gartner, exceeding the United States for the first time, there is plenty of room for home-grown niche players.

Apple's iPhone China sales stumbled in the latest quarter on inventory adjustments with the launch of the iPhone 4S, but China remains a fast-growing market for Apple and its second-largest.

Xiaomi said it raised $216 million in its latest round of fundraising in June, giving the company a valuation of $4 billion and lifting its market value above that of Blackberry maker Research in Motion.

Xiaomi, founded just two years ago, has raised $347 million in venture funding in total, the firm said in a statement.

Xiaomi smartphones, sold mostly through the Internet using scarcity marketing tactics that limit product availability, are popular with young people.

Another Chinese brand, Meizu, which also sells top-of-the-line smartphones at relatively low prices, has a following among technology fans and draws long lines and crowds to its sales counters during lunchtime.

($1 = 6.3885 yuan)

(Reporting by Melanie Lee; Editing by Edmund Klamann)

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