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China’s would-be Apple killer is starting U.S. sales

UNICORN 2015 — Lei Jun XiaomiUNICORN 2015 — Lei Jun Xiaomi
Lei Jun, founder of Xiaomi.Photograph by ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images

Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi has quickly become a major force in Asia. Now it’s making a push into the U.S. and Europe, signaling its big ambitions.

Xiaomi is about to open an online store for the American and European markets. For now, the retail sites are a test bed that offers only four electronic accessories for sale. But the move hints at the company’s bigger ambitions to challenge Apple on its home turf and many of its other key markets.

Xiaomi’s initial products for sale are a $15 fitness tracker, a pair of $80 headphones, a $10 USB power pack for charging mobile devices, and a bigger model for $14. The online stores will open on Monday at 10 p.m. ET in the US, and 1 p.m. CET the next day in the U.K., France, and Germany.

The company first announced in February that it would open its first US sales and that it would only include a few accessories. It’s previously sold some products in the U.K., like the Mi-2 phone.

Founded in 2010, Xiaomi quickly rose in popularity in Asia with its affordable smartphones and other consumer electronics, and became the largest smartphone vendor in China in 2014, according to IDC. Xiaomi sold more than 61 million smartphones in total that year.

In its latest round of venture capital funding, the company was valued at $46 billion.

Xiaomi’s foray into the U.S. market will be watched closely. While the U.S. is the world’s largest smartphone market, sales are largely made through telecom carriers. Therefore, any company that wants to capture a major slice of the market will have to work closely with AT&T, Verizon and Sprint. Xiaomi would also have to take on market leader Apple (AAPL), which has traditionally stayed away from selling low-end products like those sold by its Chinese rival. Xiaomi’s also been criticized for copying much of Apple’s product designs.

Xiaomi’s test run with its online stores will serve as a barometer for its ability to move into selling devices.

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