Russian phone maker Yota Devices will start making its first dual-screen e-ink YotaPhones in Singapore.
The company has signed with Hi-P, a manufacturer in the country, to have it mass-produce the devices.
Yota’s COO, Lau Geckler, told us that he is also in Singapore to help set up Yota’s Asian sales office and the company’s second R&D facility. Its original R&D center is in Finland, and it has development teams in Russia and the U.S., he said.
The company is now hiring mainly sales and marketing staff for Asia and in the U.S. to add to the 55 people it has in its headquarters in Russia, which take care of software development and design.
Geckler, who joined Yota last August, said the company has been on an aggressive hiring spree, and that the team has grown from 15 when he joined to its current size.
When I met him, he showed me the YotaPhone. The charger was hastily bound to the phone by a rubber band, and he apologized, noting that it is still in prototype form, but the company expects to iron out all those kinks together with Hi-P here, as it takes it to mass production.
He wouldn’t talk of how many phones they had committed to make here, but I get the feeling that once things ramp up, Yota could be free to move the process to a cheaper location in China, perhaps. Geckler said that the company intends to own as much of the manufacturing process’ IP as possible.
Still, it won’t be for a while. He said that Yota isn’t looking to sign on more manufacturing partners for now, and it is keen to first start selling in Russia, before moving into Asian markets, particularly Singapore, Japan, Indonesia and Hong Kong, where interest has been high. Japanese users, in particular, tend to hold both e-ink e-reader devices and smartphones, so the product seems fit for them, he added.
Yota was a spin-off of Russian operator, Yota, in December 2011. Yota recently merged with Megafon, a fellow operator in the country.
Back in Russia, Yota also sells LTE modems, routers and dongles. It’s sold 3 million of these devices so far, and last year sold a million.