If you were to compare iOS and Android, the latter's storage expansion option via microSD -- up to a whopping 200GB these days -- is often regarded as an advantage, though not all devices come with such offer. For instance, while HTC and LG have made the microSD slot a standard feature on their recent flagship devices, Samsung oddly decided to remove it from its Galaxy S6 series (ironically, the company has just announced new microSD cards). Xiaomi, on the other hand, seems to be on the fence: its flagship line has long ditched the microSD slot after its first-gen device, yet its affordable Redmi line uses said feature as a selling point. It's as if Xiaomi is contradicting itself, but Hugo Barra, the company's Vice President of International, gave us a more definitive answer after launching the Mi 4i in Hong Kong.
"For high performance devices, we are fundamentally against an SD card slot."
Barra backed up his statement by pointing out that his team didn't want to sacrifice battery capacity, ergonomics, appearance and, in the case of the new Mi 4i, the second Micro SIM slot for the sake of letting users add a storage card. More importantly, microSD cards "are incredibly prone to failure and malfunctioning of various different sorts," and the fact that there are a lot of fake cards out there -- and we've seen it ourselves -- doesn't help, either.
Xiaomi's Hugo Barra shows off the Mi 4i's small logic board.
"You think you're buying like a Kingston or a SanDisk but you're actually not, and they're extremely poor quality, they're slow, they sometimes just stop working, and it gives people huge number of issues, apps crashing all the time, users losing data, a lot of basically complaints and customer frustration. It's gonna be a while before you finally accept that maybe the reason why it's not performing is because you put in an SD card, right? You're gonna blame the phone, you're gonna blame the manufacturer, you're gonna shout and scream and try to get it fixed, so many different ways until you say, 'Actually, let me just take the SD card out and see what happens.'"
"It is a trend: SD cards will disappear."
Barra probably would have given the same reasoning if he was still the VP of Google's Android division. Despite many techies' desire to have storage expansion option, all Google Nexus devices bar the Nexus One lack microSD expansion, and Matias Duarte, VP of design, once explained that this is because "in reality it's just confusing for users." Google engineer Dan Morrill also voiced a similar concern on Reddit a while back.
"It is a trend: SD cards will disappear," Barra added. "You should basically not expect SD card slots in any of our flagships."
A disassembled Mi 4i displayed at the Hong Kong launch event.
On a similar note, Xiaomi's flagship line has also long abandoned the removable battery. Barra said his company's sales data indicate a low demand for spare batteries and external battery chargers these days. Of course, there's no doubt that this has to do with Xiaomi offering very cheap USB power banks (the 16,000 mAh version costs just around $18 in China), and these inadvertently help users transition from the days of removable batteries to fixed batteries. That said, Xiaomi's Redmi phones still offer removable batteries along with a microSD slot -- the latter a necessity as these dirt cheap devices come with relatively little internal storage space, which is typically just 8GB.
"Our thinking is if you're gonna have a removable back for the purposes of having an SD slot, you might as well make the battery removable," the exec explained. "It doesn't really increase the cost of the battery that much."
Xiaomi's Brazil launch is happening in just a matter of weeks.
After yesterday's Hong Kong event, Barra had already rushed back to Beijing for the Mi Note Pro launch earlier today, and then he'll be off to Taiwan for another regional Mi 4i launch tomorrow. But what's really keeping this exec busy is the preparation for Xiaomi's entry into his home country, Brazil, which is a notoriously tough market for foreign electronics brands to crack due to local policies -- you must either manufacture locally or pay heavy import taxes. Barra said that's not an issue as Xiaomi already has local manufacturing partners (namely Foxconn), and he hinted that the launch is happening in just a matter of weeks. If all goes well, this will be Xiaomi's ninth market globally, and also the first outside of Asia.