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Chinese smartphone maker hires Google executive

Hugo Barra makes move from Google to the mobile phone industry in China.

Hugo Barra makes move from Google to the mobile phone industry in China.

TOKYO — In a sign of the rising export ambitions of the Chinese mobile phone industry, a smartphone maker called Xiaomi said Thursday that it had hired a top executive away from Google to lead its international expansion plans.

Hugo Barra is one of the highest-profile Westerners to join a Chinese technology company, analysts said. At Google, he has served as vice president for Google’s Android mobile operating system, which is used by the vast majority of smartphones in China.

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“He’s a significant figure in the industry, a significant figure at Google,” said Pete Cunningham, an analyst at Canalys, a research firm. “It underlines the trend we’re seeing in the market. The Chinese vendors are going to play a big part in shaping the future of the industry.”

Xiaomi is one of a number of Chinese smartphone makers that have been gaining market share in China against foreign rivals like Apple and Nokia. Until recently, these Chinese companies seemed happy with their rising sales in China, the biggest smartphone market, but now companies like Xiaomi, Lenovo, and Huawei seem intent on expanding globally.

Xiaomi controlled 5 percent of the smartphone market in China in the second quarter, according to Canalys. That put it well behind the leader, Samsung Electronics of South Korea, which had an 18 percent share, but slightly ahead of Apple, with 4.8 percent.

Despite selling mostly in the domestic market, Chinese smartphone brands already account for about one-fifth of sales worldwide, according to Canalys. Including smartphones made in Chinese factories for foreign brands like Apple, however, Chinese production accounts for a majority of global sales.

Barra said in a statement posted on a Google social networking service that he intended to help Xiaomi “expand their incredible product portfolio and business globally.”

“I’m really looking forward to this new challenge, and am particularly excited about the opportunity to continue to help drive the Android ecosystem,” he wrote.

A main selling point for Chinese smartphones has been price. Xiaomi sells phones ranging from about $180 to $300, according to Counterpoint Technology Market Research. That is less than half the price of high-end phones from Samsung or Apple, though slightly higher than comparably equipped devices from many other Chinese brands.

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