For all the attention we pay to smartphones, it’s easy to forget that their older siblings -- feature phones -- are alive and well. They are still used by hundreds of millions of people, and have innovated in their own ways over the years.
The Qin AI Phone -- a feature handset created by Shenzhen Qin Technology -- is now on Xiaomi’s crowdfunding platform. (Yeah, Xiaomi has a crowdfunding platform.) With less than one day to go, the project has already surpassed its funding goal of US$1,450 by a whopping 1640 times, attracting some 58,000 backers.
The cheapest of the two versions, the Qin1, sports a 2.8-inch Gorilla Glass screen, supports 2G and Wi-Fi, and doubles as a remote control for home appliances. It sells for 199 yuan (US$29) and comes in two colors: metal gray and china white.
But the star feature is the voice assistant. Xiao AI (pronounced “show I”), which was first unveiled on Xiaomi’s smart speaker last year, already exists on most Xiaomi smartphones. It’s similar to Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa or Cortana: It can set an alarm, make voice calls, play music, read bedtime stories, translate foreign languages, and check currency exchange rates.
The Qin AI Phone isn’t the first feature handset to come with a virtual assistant. Some Nokia devices that run KaiOS also have access to Google Assistant. But most of Google’s services, of course, are still blocked in China -- meaning that even Android phones sold there don’t have Google apps pre-installed.
The Qin AI Phone is being featured on Xiaomi’s Youpin platform -- which focuses more on home and lifestyle products. While you can still find smartphones, laptops and other tech products there, most others are just day-to-day items like kitchenware, sneakers, baby clothes, and even cereal.
Many of these things aren’t actually made by Xiaomi. Instead, the company partners with more than a hundred companies to sell a wide variety of products on its platform. The so-called “ecosystem” strategy helps Xiaomi attract more customers, while the smaller sellers benefit from more exposure.