The Chinese smartphone industry has produced companies, leaders, and, of course, phones. But its most significant contribution to the smartphone market is more unique: a user-centric innovation by Xiaomi that treats hardware as an afterthought rather than the main driver of sales. Clay Shirky, an NYU professor living in China for this academic year, has been studying the $20 billion start-up and its techniques – the centerpiece of his new book, “Little Rice” (Columbia Global Reports). This video explains how getting lost in the Shanghai subway system brought it to life.

So how has Xiaomi “altered the Android ecosystem?” According to Shirky, it’s all about the user – specifically those willing to risk bricking their Android phones by testing Xiaomi’s software for a full year before the first phone shipped. The start-up doesn’t do traditional marketing either, instead relying on its users to market for Xiaomi. For example, when users receive their weekly software update, they are prompted to tweet about their experience with the latest version. Xiaomi also asks users for suggestions on features to add, which now constitute one-third of all features on the phone.

This focus on the user and user interface has broken new ground in the development of smartphones – demonstrating that when established smartphone producers pick up even small parts of this strategy, innovation processes and sales get immediately kicked into high gear. The acceleration of China’s smartphone ecosystem is testament. Shirky goes into more detail both in this video and his book about China’s transition from a consumer to a producer of innovation. For more information about how he can share his insights with your organization, contact us.