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Smartphones

Xiaomi-backed phone start-up eyes China’s US$14 billion mobile game market with new handset

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 April, 2018, 5:17pm
UPDATED : Friday, 13 April, 2018, 11:22pm

Black Shark, a start-up established in August last year with backing from Chinese tech giant Xiaomi, said it has received more than 100,000 registrations from users expressing interest in its new smartphone specifically targeted at gamers.

The Shenzhen-based company released its first gaming phone on Friday, featuring the Snapdragon 845 processor from Qualcomm and up to 8GB of RAM needed for high performance gaming. The phone is also equipped with an add-on cover which converts the device into a gamepad.

Xiaomi, China’s No 4 smartphone supplier, has invested 11 million yuan (US$1.7 million) for a 22 per cent stake in Black Shark, which it said was officially part of its ecosystem – a network of start-ups that produce lifestyle electronics products sold by Xiaomi.  

The gaming phone has been heavily promoted over the past week through social media posts by Xiaomi founder and CEO Lei Jun as well as via advertising under the Xiaomi brand.

China’s smartphone market, the biggest in the world, has reached a saturation point with growth rates slowing, prompting phone brands to come up with alternative strategies to boost sales. Black Shark claims to be the first in China to focus on a smartphone tailored for the needs of game players as it seeks to tap into the country’s US$14.6 billion mobile game market. 

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In late 2017 San Francisco and Singapore based gaming specialist Razer released its first gaming-centric phone which it sells via retail outlets in Hong Kong and China. 

Xiaomi’s brand fame in China and its promotion efforts have greatly boosted interest in Black Shark’s gaming phone, with more than 100,000 online reservations made over three days on JD.com, China’s second-largest e-commerce platform, ahead of the product’s official launch despite the brand and product being unknown by the general public. However, the registration process does not require up front payment.

Xiaomi also launched a channel for reservations on its own online platform, although the bulk of sales are expected to be through Black Shark’s cooperation with JD.com.

Black Shark does not have an official presence on Tmall, the popular business-to-consumer marketplace operated by Alibaba Holdings, the parent company of South China Morning Post

Black Shark founder and CEO Shimin Wu once served as president of the mobile broadband terminal business at Huawei Technologies, China’s No 1 smartphone vendor. 

Wu said the company currently employs more than 300 people, with more than 90 per cent being product designers and engineers. Most are also game players themselves, and knowing the limitations of smartphones when it comes to playing mobile games, they were determined to offer a gaming mobile phone for Chinese players.

Not everyone is convinced the Black Shark product is so revolutionary. So-called gaming phones were just an advertising gimmick, according to Yu Chengdong, the mobile segment chief at Huawei. Speaking at the launch of Huawei’s P20 phones in Shanghai on Thursday, he compared it to smartphones that were advertised as waterproof. 

“Many smartphones have already added [these types of] features,” a 36Kr report cited Yu as saying.