In a country whose best known contribution to global technology may well be the Kalashnikov rifle, a new mobile-phone company once tied to Russia's state-run defense corporation hopes it will have as deep an impact on the world's next generation of smartphones.
Yota Devices is betting on its soon-to-be revealed dual-screen product to break the mold of mobile technology─combining a traditional LCD screen on one side and an electronic-paper display on the other, allowing for seamless information streaming while promising better battery life than the average smartphone.
'We created this to be different,' said the company's 43-year-old chief executive, Vladislav Martynov, while demonstrating a prototype at his sleek Moscow office filled with antique telephones. 'Most phones nowadays are boring─they are just boxes. This is a phone for people who want to be outside that box.'
A team of 35 engineers with a budget of $25 million worked since May to bring the concept into reality, he said.
Yota plans to show the new phone at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February. It is then scheduled to go on sale in Russia by the third quarter of next year before appearing in international markets the following quarter in cooperation with global carriers.
The phone, which doesn't yet have a name, is powered by Google Inc.'s Android software. The cost is expected to be about $500, below the iPhone but in line with other top Android devices.
Breaking into the hugely competitive market is likely to be a tall order for a small newcomer.
'They have a novel idea but an unknown brand,' said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at tech research firm Gartner Inc. 'The phone market is a lot about brand and fashion, so competition will be tough.'
Mr. Martynov acknowledges the challenges, but says his phone offers something new, when major players 'haven't brought a lot of innovation in the past five to six years.' Ms. Milanesi said the phone may find fans as it could 'solve a problem by allowing people to have access to what information they care about most.'
The design will allow users to continuously view all kinds of streaming data in real time─from Twitter feeds to stock market tickers─without having to constantly wake their phones up from sleep mode or quickly drain their batteries.
The innovation lies in the use of the e-paper display, a technology most widely seen on e-book readers such as Amazon.com Inc.'s Kindle, which allows an image to be displayed at all times, but only uses power when the picture changes.
Phones with two LCD screens have appeared in Asian markets but have not been greatly successful.
Some companies have created phones with partial e-paper screens, while others have come up with slip-on covers that use the screens.
Mr. Martynov, a sharp-featured, 20-year veteran of software and IT companies, including Microsoft Corp., says the applications are limitless for the e-reader display.
The black and white screen gives users the ability to display pictures of their family or favorite movie star, screen grabs of maps and airplane boarding passes or even weather updates without ever having to touch the phone. The images remain in place even if the phone runs out of power.
The display can also be customized to show surreptitious symbols when a message is received from someone the user would rather keep secret in certain situations.
Other unique elements include a curved display on one-side, using a first-of-its kind rounded glass from Corning Inc., designed to encourage users to always point the e-paper screen up when putting the phone down.
The screen is only partially touch-sensitive, with color and a full touch-screen a possibility for later generations.
'Their product design is totally different, so there will have to be a lot of education that will have to take place. Something so radical could potentially place it on the fringe and they will have to spend a lot to overcome that,' said Ramon Llamas, senior analyst of global mobile phone markets for IDC.
現年43歲的Yota Devices首席執行長馬丁諾夫(Vladislav Martynov)說﹐我們推出這款手機就是為了創造與眾不同的產品﹐在他位於莫斯科的氣派的、擺滿了各式古董手機的辦公室里﹐他向記者展示了一部樣機。他說﹐大多數手機的款式讓人感到乏味﹐無非就是個方塊盒子﹔這款手機是為那些想要擺脫盒子的人準備的。
Yota計劃明年2月份在巴塞羅那的全球移動通訊大會(Mobile World Congress)上展示這款手機﹐明年第三季度開始在俄羅斯銷售這款手機﹐並於接下來的季度與國際運營商合作﹐把手機推向國際市場。
國際數據公司(International Data Corp)的全球手機市場高級分析師拉瑪斯(Ramon Llamas)說﹐他們的產品設計完全不同﹐所以它需要向人們灌輸許多新的信息﹔這種顛覆性的東西可能會讓這家公司被邊緣化﹐他們將不得不為了克服這一狀況付出很大代價。
LUKAS I. ALPERT