By Paul Carsten
BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese budget smartphone maker Xiaomi unveiled on Thursday its first tablet, expanding its product lineup to directly challenge established rivals Samsung Electronics Co Ltd and Apple Inc.
The Mi Pad, which comes in six colors, will have a 7.9 inch screen, the same size as an iPad Mini.
Like other tablets, it comes equipped with wireless internet, front and back cameras and a built-in memory capacity of 16 gigabytes or 64 gigabytes. But it is priced cheaper than comparable iPad Mini and Samsung Galaxy Tab models at 1,499 yuan ($240) for the smaller version.
The company did not say anything about a 4G version.
"We wanted the hardware to come close to, or even surpass Apple's iPad," Xiaomi's founder Lei Jun said at the launch event in Beijing. Xiaomi's flagship smartphones, which are among the fastest selling in China, resemble Apple's iPhone.
Lei said an initial version of the tablet would be available for testing by the public in mid-June, but he declined to specify a launch date or sales targets. It was also not clear if the Mi Pad would be sold outside China.
The worldwide tablet market, which saw shipments of 195.4 million devices in 2013, is forecast to grow nearly 40 percent this year, according to consultants Gartner, Inc, with China especially seeing significant growth.
Privately held Xiaomi became the world's sixth-largest smartphone vendor in the first quarter of 2014, according to data firm Canalys, after repeatedly doubling its sales. It's cheap yet sleek phones are popular in China, the world's largest market for smartphones.
The company expects to sell 40 million phones this year, compared to 18.7 million last year and 7.2 million the year before.
DIFFERENT BUSINESS MODEL
Xiaomi said its Mi Pad will have a plastic case and run on its own Android-based operating system. The company, founded in 2010, leads a group of young Chinese home-grown handset brands that have successfully attracted local consumers with advanced features at lower prices than global brands.
"Xiaomi has a different business model than Apple or Samsung," said Ben Thompson, founder of Stratechery.com, a technology and strategy website.
"Apple makes it profits on the hardware, while Xiaomi claims they will make their profits on services."
Xiaomi is now looking to expand abroad, and has already started selling its phones in Singapore and Taiwan.
At an April event in Beijing, Hugo Barra, a Xiaomi vice president and former Google Inc executive, said the firm is planning to expand into Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, India, Brazil and Mexico.
In October, Xiaomi launched its flagship Mi 3 smartphone, selling 100,000 units in 90 seconds when it was released online. Its low-cost Redmi handset has also saw strong sales in China and was recently launched in Singapore.
Xiaomi's success also is creating new opportunities for parts suppliers in Japan, including display makers Sharp Corp and Japan Display Inc, as they bolster their offerings of high-specification features to compete with global brands.
Xiaomi lists Sharp as a supplier and said it had provided the displays for the tablet. ($1 = 6.2289 Chinese Yuan)
(Corrects product name to Mi Pad, rather than MiPad)
(Reporting by Paul Carsten; Writing by Matthew Miller; Editing by Miral Fahmy)