* Yota plans to sell phone in 20 countries next year
* Phone has double sided display, always-on screen
* Analysts: It will struggle to compete with Apple, Samsung
By Maria Kiselyova
MOSCOW, Dec 4 Russian modem developer Yota
Devices has launched its first smartphone, hoping its novel
double-sided screen will allow it to break into foreign markets
although analysts doubt it will gain a sizeable share from
Yota has been developing the phone since 2010. On Wednesday,
it was presented to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, a lover of
modern gadgets, who suggested the novelty had made iPhone maker
Apple "strain", Russian news agencies reported.
Oil-rich Russia is a major market for foreign handset makers
such as Apple and Samsung Electronics, but it has so
far not been successful in designing handsets.
Moscow-based Yota Devices plans to sell the phone in 20
countries next year after making its 2013 debut in Russia,
Austria, France, Germany and Spain, Chief Executive Vlad
Martynov told Reuters.
"If we really hit the mark, we'll be happy because in two to
three years everyone will be copying us," he said, referring to
the success of Apple's iPhones since their launch in 2007. He
has no plans now to launch in the competitive U.S. market.
Analysts however were sceptical, predicting Yota will
struggle to emulate the success of the iPhone or Samsung's
"In people's minds Yota Devices is a no-name company, it's
not Samsung or Nokia or Apple, which all have their
fans. No one will be expecting a YotaPhone," said Denis Kuskov,
analyst at research firm TelecomDaily.
"At best, the sales will be limited to several tens of
thousands in 2014. The company is focused on developing one
model and big production costs clearly won't be covered."
The phone, based on Google's Android mobile
operating system, will be available for 19,990 roubles ($600) in
Russian stores against a price of around 29,000 roubles ($870)
for Apple's iPhone 5c with the same memory.
In Europe and the United Arab Emirates the YotaPhone will be
available for 499 euros ($680) and $600 respectively. The
company has teamed up with distributors Ingram Micro Inc
and Brodos for international sales, it said.
Assembled in China from components made in Japan and Taiwan,
the YotaPhone features a backlit liquid crystal display (LCD)
screen on one side and, on the other, an electronic paper
display designed to mimic the appearance of ordinary ink on
paper, which is always switched on.
"It's a new type of gadget. With smartphones it's always one
problem - its display is always black, it always sleeps, which
we think is fundamentally wrong," Martynov said in an interview,
pointing at the smartphone's front screen.
The LCD screen is used for calls and other traditional
functions, while the electronic paper screen can stream social
media, text messages, maps, weather and breaking news and also
works as an e-book.
Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner, said
she expected small sales volumes for now but did not rule out
that the technology would be picked up by other handset makers.
"Yota certainly has a new approach to smartphones and they
not only are trying to look different but to solve an issue many
consumers have when it comes to managing battery life and
constant notifications," said Milanesi.
"The big question will be how much consumers are prepared to
pay for that different approach and how much they will bet on a
Yota has received about 10,000 pre-orders via its online
store, mostly from Russia, Martynov said. He declined to predict
sales but said the company hoped that approaching New Year and
Christmas holidays would help.
Sales of smartphones in Russia exceeded sales of mobile
phones for the first time in November, Russia's top phone
retailer Euroset said last week. In monetary terms, smartphones
accounted for 85 percent of the market, it added.
Yota Devices, majority owned by Russian investment fund
Wooden Fish, was spun off from wireless internet provider Yota,
also known as Scartel, in 2011, ahead of a deal that saw
Russia's No. 2 mobile operator Megafon buy Scartel for