Beijing-based smartphone giant Xiaomi is about to give DJI, the Chinese tech company currently leading the global drone market, a run for its money.
On Wednesday, Xiaomi unveiled the Mi Drone, a product that is nearly half the price of its DJI equivalent. The initial livestream aired at 7 a.m. Eastern in Chinese without translations — a reminder to American enthusiasts that, no matter how much technology has shrunk the globe, barriers endure. But just because the drone war is heating up in China doesn’t mean Americans can’t buy the new technology; thanks to mainstream online marketplaces as well as wholesale marketplaces based around exporting Chinese products, eager buyers outside mainland China will still be able to get a Mi Drone delivered to their door.
Xiaomi currently offers a limited range of products for American buyers in its online store: some headphones, a car charger, and a “summer treat package” that includes a USB reading light and personal cooling fan. Notably, the company’s globally popular smartphones — which it sold 71 million of last year — were left out. Without the distribution partnerships and patents that would allow it to take hold in the U.S. market, it’ll be a while before Xiaomi is able to directly sell its main products to American consumers.
The Mi Drone will probably face similar impediments as its smartphone. (DJI, meanwhile, holds around 40 patents in the United States and is on the shelves of many big-box stores.)
Americans hankering for electronics that aren’t sold officially by their manufacturers can turn instead to the third-party sellers on online marketplaces like Amazon, Banggood, and AliExpress. When the Mi Drone goes up for sale, it could very well be available on these platforms.
But beware: buying foreign electronics from random middlemen sometimes come with a host of pitfalls. Chinese electronics are made for use in that country — meaning they aren’t likely to be supported in the United States, and they’ll be configured in Chinese rather than English. Plus, it’s hard to know what you’re really getting from these everything-goes platforms. The 2015 plague of exploding hoverboards was one symptom of this vast, unchecked global market, where counterfeits and pirated products abound.
For now, Xiaomi’s new drone isn’t for sale in any market. The 1080p Mi Drone will be “crowdfunded” on the company’s app starting Thursday, while the 4k version will launch beta testing in July. The company has not yet released further details about the beta testing program, when the Mi Drone will go up for sale, or whether it will be sold outside of China.