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Moscow: A view of a Yandex smartphone during a presentation on Wednesday.—AFP
Moscow: A view of a Yandex smartphone during a presentation on Wednesday.—AFP

RUSSIAN internet giant Yandex on Wednesday launched its first ever smartphone in a highly anticipated move into hardware that builds on its popular service apps. The company behind the most widely used search engine in Russia and the ex-Soviet region has recently diversified to defend its market share against Google. Like its US rival, it has created a range of popular phone apps for services from taxi-hailing to ordering takeaway food.

The new smartphone, called Yandex.Phone, will go on sale today in Russia and online. It will cost 17,990 rubles ($269) — less than similar phones from competitors Apple and Samsung — and will work with the Android system. While the design was created by Yandex, the phone is made in China. Yandex’s various apps for payment, music, maps, taxi and food are pre-installed on the phone, which will also use a smart speaker called Alice (Alisa in Russian), which uses artificial intelligence and is similar to Amazon’s Alexa. Yandex started in the 1990s as a search engine similar to Google but has expanded into every corner of the Russian internet.

The Yandex smartphone is not the first to be developed by a Russian company. In 2013 the YotaPhone, designed in Russia but also made in China, was launched with the gimmick of having screens on both sides. However it failed to set the market alight. This time the company behind the smartphone has much more clout. It is listed on the New York Stock Exchange and is renowned for its creative flair. Yandex and its main Russian rival — which owns the country’s most popular social networking site VKontakte — are competing in the booming e-commerce sector as Russia faces pressure from Western sanctions and is turning towards China for joint projects.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2018