Can an Israeli startup build the next big smartphone? Will $25M, Karim Rashid, and an approximately $10K price tag lure enough high-end customers?
A new smartphone manufacturer isn’t something you see every day, especially one aiming for the super rich rather than emerging markets. But Tel Aviv-based startup Sirin Mobile Technologies is on track to do just that – to the tune of approximately $10,000 a phone.
According to several reliable sources, a few months ago the company completed a huge first funding round of $25M led by Singulariteam, an Israeli VC led by Israeli serial entrepreneur and Mobli’s CEO, Moshe Hogeg and Kazakh businessman, Kenges Rakishev.
Update: According to Crunchbase, it appears that the investment round was closed last November, but our sources confirmed that the company was only founded back in November 2013 and the funding took place a few months later.
According to our sources, the company has managed to bring no other than Egyptian guru designer Karim Rashid to design their new, ultra expensive phone. His award-winning designs span various industries, and in the electronics market, he has scored prizes for Samsung and Asus product designs.
Is there really a $10k+ market for smartphones?
Sirin was founded less than a year ago, in November 2013 by Israeli serial entrepreneur Tal Cohen. After selling his company, ibetcha.com to Vivendi Universal in 2003, Cohen has managed to jump industies left and right while working for consulting firm McKinsey, Forbes Magazine (as a journalist) and even Google before coming up with the idea to build a nouveaux riche smartphone company.
The smartphone market has dozens of manufacturers that are aiming for the general audience, and there are, of course, custom versions of regular phones with all kinds of jewelry embedded in them that cost hundreds or thousands of dollars (or hundreds of thousands of dollars for the uber glamorous). But Vertu is the only manufacturer that targets all of its devices towards the super rich.
Vertu, which started as a subsidiary of the Finnish phone king, Nokia, back in 1998, tried to prove that the luxury cell phone market might not be as big as the mass smartphone market, but it is big enough. Considering the company was sold two years ago to Asian private equity firm EQT partners for around $250M, and the report EQT released last April claimed that Vertu’s sales totaled over $300M last year alone, we think they proved their point. Although the company didn’t disclose the number of phones it sold last year, the report did mention a 400K number, which is supposed to represent the number of phones the company has sold in the past decade.
It’s not about jewels anymore
Since its inception, Vertu has always been more about the glam of the phones than the tech inside them – but that’s starting to change.
While their previous flagship phone still had a tiny 2″ screen and ran a Symbian series 40 OS, the company recently launched a new version of the Signature called “Signature Touch,” and just last week launched their new “lower end” smartphone called “Aster” (Don’t worry, even for a “low-end” Vertu phone you will still have to pay as little as $6,700). Both new versions run on Android 4.4, and have Quad-Core Qualcomm processors, 4.7″ screens protected by sapphire crystal, and a 13MP camera.
In the recent product launch announcement, Massimiliano Pogliani, Vertu’s Chief Executive Officer, said that “Over the last two years we have expanded our product range with specific consumers in mind. Powerful technology now runs throughout all Vertu devices and there has been tremendous opportunity for us to tailor designs, materials and service suites to meet differing consumer needs and desires.”
While Vertu understands that plain-old bling isn’t enough anymore, and these specs might appear to be in order to favor Apple fans, the last generation of Android phones already has shinier hardware – this is exactly where Sirin comes in.
Building the best phone ever
According to our sources, the company is developing a phone that will not only have a high-end design (an obvious fact with Karim Rashid on board), but also sport the most advanced hardware and technology inside. While the specs themselves weren’t disclosed to us, we do know that the company is putting all of its effort into making every piece of hardware – including its core processor, display, camera, and battery – the most advanced any smartphone manufacturer has ever built.
One thing we do know regarding the specs, and might be a good indication towards where the company is heading, is that the company might be the first one to sport the new charging technology developed by Israeli Storedot that was unveiled earlier this year and can charge a phone from 0 to 100% in 30 seconds.
Sirin has also been going into a hiring spree, bringing in top talents like Raphi Hess, former VP of R&D in companies like Axxana, Modu and Alcatel-Lucent, Zvi Landau, former COO at Prime Sense, Eli Ben-Ami, former senior executive who specialized in Android apps at Samsung Electronics, and Einav Sadan-Duschak, former director of product design at Modu and Emblaze. We’ve also learned that the company already hired several dozens of engineers that are currently working on developing Android-based operating systems meant to support the new device.
At the moment, the company is still operating under stealth-mode, but we’ve learned that they already passed the initial prototyping stages and are currently in place to launch the new device towards the end of 2015. The pricing scheme for the new phone wasn’t disclosed as well, but considering the market these guys are aiming for, unless you already own a Rolex or Patek Philippe watch, you probably will not be able to afford one.
Both Sirin and Singulariteam have declined to comment on the story.