Nov 4, 2014 · 1 minute

Xiaomi showed it could do more than copy other companies when it announced its own smart television set in 2013. The product was cheap, boasted enough features to warrant the "smart" label, and featured a design more attractive than competitive products. It was a declaration, a promise that Xiaomi intended to be more than the Apple of China: it planned to become a true innovator in its own right, and that required a product that even Apple hasn't been able to ship.

The company has followed up on that declaration with the announcement that it will invest $1 billion to acquire more content for its television service. (Its television platform is available both on the smart television set and on a set-top box similar to the Apple TV.) It has also hired a former Sina executive, Chen Tong, to make its content more "diverse and exciting."

Xiaomi's investment is unique in size, if not in concept. Plenty of other tech companies have started to create their own content -- or revive cult shows like "Community," in Yahoo's case -- in an effort to make their own products more compelling. But it's still rare for a company that makes its own hardware and software platforms to invest so much in acquiring quality media.

Perhaps the only companies to which Xiaomi can be compared are Microsoft and Sony. All of them make their own hardware, offer their own software, and invest in original content. The main difference is that Xiaomi's focusing on television sets and smartphones while the only products that Microsoft and Sony are selling that really matter are their video game consoles. (Which isn't to say that video game consoles aren't important, as I wrote back in May 2013.)

That's why Xiaomi's announcement is so significant. Other companies are using content to justify their products; Xiaomi's products do that on their own. Other companies hold just one aspect of the technological landscape; Xiaomi is inserting itself into all of them. And perhaps the only company that could have a bigger impact by investing $1 billion in content is Apple, which instead decided to invest at least $100 million to help support a U2 album that no one wanted.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]