17:9 and beyond: our relentless exploration of the full screen display

Xiaomi has always relentlessly pursued technological innovations. At the beginning of 2014, we noticed that while the competition in the smartphone industry had intensified, the overall design of smartphones remained stagnant.

As we sought to create a breakthrough, our engineers brainstormed on how to make a full screen display smartphone, which we believed should be the future of smartphone design — with the physical form disappearing into the background so that the on-screen content can take centerstage.

However, no one knew how difficult it would be, so we decided to make a concept model first. We invited the world-renowned designer Philippe Starck to partner with us and lead the design for Mi MIX.

This August, Mi MIX won the IDEA Gold Award for its innovative design.

“IDSA IDEA 2017 winners demonstrate how designers are able to capture what’s invisible to others and inspire beauty through the smallest of details within the simplest of artifacts,” said IDEA 2017 Jury Chair Owen Foster, IDSA. “Winners go beyond the tangible that we are so accustomed to seeing—to cultivate amazing, holistic ecosystems.”

From 16:9 to 17:9

The aspect ratio refers the ratio of the width to the height of an image or screen. Mi MIX was the first Android-based device that used a screen with a 17:9 aspect ratio and rounded display corners, which at the time, didn’t comply with Google’s Android CDD (Compatibility Definition Document). The document explicitly stated that Android phones should have an aspect ratio between 4:3 and 16:9.

We engaged Google in a discussion on this and finally received  Google’s permission to allow the 17:9 aspect ratio, which we truly felt gives a stronger visual impact and better user experience. Here’s a timeline to summarize what happened:

  • At the beginning of 2016, Xiaomi engaged Google in a discussion on the screen aspect ratio as we built Mi MIX with a 17:9 aspect ratio.
  • On July 1, 2016, our engineers emailed Google asking whether Mi MIX can pass the compatibility test or if its 17:9 aspect ratio could be treated as a special case.
  • On July 22, 2016, we got an official reply from Google saying that the 17:9 aspect ratio did not comply with Google’s Android CDD.
  • August 2016 was the most difficult time of the R&D process, when the team was weighing whether they should press on or give up on this project. However, they strongly believed that as an innovative smartphone company, Xiaomi should push the boundaries and delivering a stunning full screen display experience could only be achieved through a 17:9 aspect ratio. So they decided to continue communicating with Google.
  • In September 2016, our colleagues from the global team went to Google’s Mountain View headquarters in the U.S. to explain the concept of Mi MIX and its innovative technologies in detail and Google verbally agreed.
  • On October 25, 2016, we successfully launched our full screen display concept smartphone, Mi MIX, and it wowed people by giving them a glimpse of the phone of the future.
  • On November 8, 2016, Google officially approved the 17:9 aspect ratio by changing its CDD to allow screen aspect ratios beyond 16:9, as well as rounded display corners, which also paved the way for other smartphone companies to follow suit.

Besides the 17:9 aspect ratio, Mi MIX also incorporated cutting-edge technologies that did away with the physical earpiece speaker and proximity sensor.

Now we are unveiling the second generation of Mi MIX and bringing it above and beyond the concept phone. The Mi MIX product line is where much of our effort to pursue cutting-edge innovations is concentrated, and it arguably pioneered the trend of full screen display smartphones being launched around the world now. It has established a new bar for smartphone innovation and Mi MIX 2 will now bring all of this innovation to an even wider consumer group.

Why we made only 100 units of the Mercury Silver Mi 6

In a recent blog post we revealed that only 100 units of the Mercury Silver Mi 6 will be available on Mi.com in China. The Mercury Silver Mi 6 is extremely difficult to produce and is an outcome of Xiaomi’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of materials technology.

This video is an interview with Anthony Howe, the design consultant for the Mercury Silver Mi 6. Anthony is good at using metals and shaping them into artistic pieces. For him, the Mercury Silver Mi 6 was “almost an impossible task”. However, Xiaomi made the idea come true.

Let’s take a deeper dive into this one-of-a-kind masterpiece!

Two different techniques

There are two methods to make silver mirror-like surfaces. One is film coating, which is used by other big smartphone makers. This method can be simply understood as pasting a special, light sensitive film to the back of the transparent glass cap that produces a silvering mirror-like effect.

The other method, PVD electroplating, is what the Mercury Silver Mi 6 adopts. It is a special electroplating method in an entirely vacuumed environment. Simply put, this method is time intensive and technically challenging, but the results are worth the wait.

Compared to electroplating, the film coating technique results in higher yield rates and does not require vacuum surroundings, so it can easily apply to mass production. So why do we insist on using a more time intensive and difficult method with limited production capacity? Because through this technique we’re able to produce a one-of-a-kind unit that has a better mirror-like surface, making the device completely smooth and bright.

Three elements of PVD electroplating

As noted, the first key element is an entirely vacuumed environment. Even a single speck of dust will ruin the whole glass batch. Since the body of a smartphone can’t be accomplished at a single plant, we have to make sure that the whole transportation process is dust-free.

The second part of the process is to make sure that the whole mirror surface has unified color and luster. The electroplating process applies hundreds of millions of very tiny silver particles evenly on the interior of glass in a vacuum environment.

One particle is 0.34 nm, and to give you an idea of how small that is, 1 nm is about one 60,000th of the diameter of a single hair strand. And to achieve perfect coating effect, one layer is not enough. That means this time intensive process has to be repeated for several times, and we do it eight times!

Lastly, perfection must be achieved on the inside as well as the outside. We wanted to use a unique material that would deliver the mercury silver effect, yet didn’t shield the phone signal. We tested a wide variety of materials to achieve the effect we wanted and found one that is extremely unique, but we are keeping this material top-secret! Very James Bond-like, right?

The Mercury Silver Mi 6 truly embodies the relentless exploring spirit of Xiaomi. Recently, we gifted the Mercury Silver Mi 6 to four significant people who embody this same spirit. The recipients include Franky Zapata, the inventor of Flyboard, the jet-powered hover board; Alan Stern, the principal investigator of NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto; David Reitze, Director of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) experiment at the University of Florida; Buzz Aldrin, a former astronaut on Apollo 11 and one of the first two humans to land on the Moon.

We salute these leaders with the Mercury Silver Mi 6 in a shared spirit of love for innovation and exploration!