Google Exec Hugo Barra Jumps Ship for Chinese Company Xiaomi

One of Google's top executives has abandoned the Google-verse... in favor of a Chinese smartphone manufacturer, which markets itself as the "Apple of the East."

Though Hugo Barra, ex-vice-president of Android, swears blind that the split between he and Google was amicable, it's still a pretty awkward move. He's been poached by Chinese smartphone empire Xiaomi, which has branded itself as China's answer to Steve-Jobs-era Apple Inc. — and has the domestic empire to prove it. Barra has overseen all of the Android developments of the last five years, which is to say, a lot.

All of America's smartphone gods have typically seen huge profits in China: Apple, Android, BlackBerry. The world's most populous country has long been a gargantuan importer, exporter, and client of cutting-edge technology, but recently Chinese smartphone firms have been attempting to wrest control of the market back from its American counterparts. There, Xiaomi is one of the country's biggest players, with $2 billion made from smartphone sales just last year.

The New York Times points out that China is "famous for knockoffs," and that Xiaomi is little more than a well-executed, slightly delayed rip-off of Apple. Having recently grown out of its "start-up" label, it offers very similar products for lower prices, caters to the ever-expanding student-and-graduate market, and has seen huge popularity — it's worth $4 billion, at last count — without having to worry about all of that pesky innovating. Here are their latest products, looking not at all like the iPhone.

Well... the iPhone, if it had a love child with Android. Xiaomi's software system is based upon an adapted version of Android, which Barra made reference to in a post on Google's public blog in a teeth-grinding show of support: “I’m really looking forward to this new challenge," he wrote, "and am particularly excited about the opportunity to continue to help drive the Android ecosystem."

Barra will head up the international-marketing segment of Xiaomi, as the company pulls an Apple and attempts to expand internationally. Its smartphones likely won't show any innovative promise, but will concentrate on marketing themselves to a demographic who want Apple-like products at an affordable price. And for this, analysts expect them to gain huge profits.