Xiaomi Announces Soft Launch in the West

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Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun attends the launch of the new Xiaomi smartphone at National Convention Center on July 22, 2014 in Beijing, China. China's smartphone maker Xiaomi Corp launched its fourth-generation Android smartphone 'Mi 4' on Tuesday. And Xiaomi sold 26.11 million smartphones in the first half of 2014.

Xiaomi, the Chinese-borne Apple competitor -- which surpassed Uber in late December as the world's most-valuable indie startup after news that it had raised over $1 billion in new funding -- has announced a soft launch in the US, UK, France and Germany. The jump westward comes five years after the company's founding, and follows a failed attempt to enter India's nascent market.

The company will not be selling any of its well-regarded phones at the outset -- only its fitness band, two charging packs and a pair of headphones.

As mentioned, Xiaomi is best known for its smartphone line, which operates on a modified version of Google's Android operating system designed to mimic Apple's iOS. (It's not the only thing designed by Xiaomi to mimic Apple -- everything from its website to its product announcements resemble the tech giant's own.)

Regardless of any copycatting, Xiaomi is a force to be reckoned with in China, having surpassed Apple as the country's No. 1 smartphone seller in February, before being surpassed again by Apple later in Q1.