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The making of Mi MIX: How the Philippe Starck collaboration was born

This September, Philippe Starck took the stage in Beijing for the launch of Mi MIX 2, the stunning full screen display smartphone. Starck joined forces with Xiaomi last year to revolutionize the smartphone industry with the original Mi MIX, the world’s first full screen display phone. But, the road to the renowned designer’s connection to us dates back to the end of 2014, when several Xiaomi products won a series of design awards. Starck was impressed that a brand from China – a country criticized at the time for lacking strong industrial designs – created such simple, neat, and impressive works.

In the spring of 2015, Starck was introduced by his friend to Xiaomi and experienced several products. He felt there was a common understanding with us on the design philosophy in terms of democratization for elegant and high technological designs.

How Mi MIX 1 started

With our founder and CEO Lei Jun‘s commission, Liu De, our vice president who leads Mi Ecosystem went to Spain in August 2015 to meet with Starck and showed him the Ceramic Edition Mi 5 Pro. Starck believed the device was a world-class product, and a manifestation of a shared vision: the simpler the design is, the more important the material.

Given the mindshare, Liu De let Starck in on the company’s plan to launch an all-new concept phone product line, which would become our most important project, to date, emphasizing the desire to create a product for which mass production was not a priority, and could simply focus on the possible forms of future phones.

By the end of the meeting, Starck accepted our invitation to lead the design of the project – taking a leap of faith to design a phone for the first time.

It took Starck only three days to develop the first design, followed by a year of fleshing out the ambitious concept.

Led by Starck, our engineers created a series of mockups and models, and frequently flew to France and Portugal for working sessions with Starck. Lei Jun also immersed himself in the manufacturing process and worked directly with engineers to solve structural and engineering challenges.

Mi MIX 1 had its pilot production in February 2016, which incorporated leading-edge features such as doing away with the earpiece speaker and the proximity sensor with piezoelectric ceramic technology and ultrasonic technology.

By August 2016, we finalized the design of Mi MIX 1. On October 26, we officially unveiled Mi MIX 1.

How Mi MIX 2 started

In November that year, the Mi MIX 2 project was officially started. Starck and Our ID, product and engineering teams had frequent and fast communication, from which they cleared the aspects to improve on Mi MIX 2, including:

  • Change the aspect ratio from 17:9 to 18:9, so that the on-screen content can take centerstage and is more pure, as well as more immersive.
  • Re-enable the diaphragm handset for a better call experience.
  • While keeping the high aspect ratio, slightly narrow the phone body so it can be thinner and have better handfeel.
  • Adhere to the ceramic material and apply a more integrated ceramic unibody design.

“We created the Unibody ceramic Mix 2 because the concept of full monolith fits with idea of fullness, completeness, and simpleness of the ancient China philosophy and the values of the next world. We tried to reach through the unibody a type of serenity. The purity of design of a ceramic unibody gives us the feeling of smooth perfection of jade, a quiet pure jade.” Ph.S

In less than two months, Starck proposed and updated more than a dozen ideas. Our engineering team began building a structure based on the design process and selection. All of our teams met in France and Portugal several times to discuss with Starck about the forward-looking technical solutions.

Then Starck came to Beijing on February 15 to meet Lei Jun and our teams to discuss the design and structure, technology and other issues.

The engineering model of the P0 version of Mi MIX 2 finally succeeded after months of experiments amidst the huge technological challenge of creating a ceramic unibody.

In early May 2017, Starck received the P1 prototype of the first Mi MIX 2.

“Looks like an evolution but it is a revolution. Revolution is the addition of powerful evolution.” Ph.S

“When Lei Jun introduced me the powerful performance of Mi MIX 2, I had the strong feeling that Lei Jun had just gave me the key, the possibility to create the ultimate best for all of us, for all the world.” Ph.S

In August 2017, Mi MIX won the IDEA Gold Award.

On September 11, Starck came to Beijing to attend the launch event of Mi MIX 2, which once again stunned the world.

“Because it’s fantastic, we cannot make better today. It’s done, we cannot go more forward now. It’s ultimate but so challenging to create the next revolution.” Ph.S

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.