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Xiaomi brings China back to the fore with People’s Hoverboard

Rohan Malhotra

Just yesterday, Xiaomi unveiled the new “Ninebot Mini” an electric self-balancing scooter at its Beijing launch event.

Many had thought Xiaomi would introduce the new Mi5 smartphone or perhaps a refresh on its tablet line, instead we have arguably what might be a very clever move for Xiaomi: a Segway-tech scooter from a major brand selling for RMB 1999 (USD 320), placing it squarely in the range of many peoples budgets.

Portable electric transportation has been a staple of Chinese city life for several years now with various fads coming and going, but with China remaining the single largest market on the planet for e-scooters and e-bikes.

Yes a majority of those are e-bikes!

What started with the Segway halfway across the world, later evolved into cheaper knock-offs when the Segway failed to gain traction, and what we have seen over the last few years in particular, is a blossoming of several categories of miniaturised electric personal transporters.

In China there can be seen most commonly: “Razor Scooter-esque” PTs, unicycle PTs, skateboard-style PTs, the recently popular “hoverboard” PTs, the full gamut, in addition to the enormous varieties of electric scooters and bicycles.

Ninebot’s unicycle

In the past year this trend even managed to transcend China and the world has witnessed several prominent American celebrities riding around on different iterations of the concept. What is important to note is that all of the currently popular machines on the market are effectively re-badged Chinese domestic models. This is a China-first trend.

So what will this mean for Xiaomi?

Seems like Xiaomi has arrived at just the opportune moment to capitalize on their having purchased Segway, only a matter of months ago.

If the Segway faltered, it was not because the concept was flawed – it still retains an enthusiastic following – it was because of the tremendous premium the product attracted and a lack of diverse form factors.

Ninebot, the Xiaomi-backed newly-minted owner of Segway, now has both the patent store and talent to produce what could be just the thing to tip the nascent market in its favour: a prestige model, offering a price, quality and marketing proposition.

The current generation of Chinese models have successfully found a following both domestically and outside of China at the grass-roots level. Unlike with Xiaomi’s phone tech, which is arguably a quagmire of patent lawsuits waiting to happen, Xiaomi has the one-up on this, it now owns Segway. This may be just the thing to bring in the big bucks on the mainland as well as a safe way to introduce Xiaomi to the as yet, uncharted territory of both Europe and North America.

E-bike image credit Daniel Case

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