A U.S.-Armenian joint venture has begun long-awaited sales of first-ever smartphones designed and assembled in Armenia.
The five different versions of the mobile phone called Armphone appeared on sale at electronics shops in Yerevan on Tuesday, costing between 51,000 and 151,000 drams ($106-$315) apiece.
The Yerevan-based company, Technology and Science Dynamics (TSD), is also planning to sell tablet computers also designed by Armenian engineers. It already supplied about 700 of them to schools across the country last year.
TSD unveiled the two devices using the Android operating system in late 2013. Then Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian demonstrated them at a cabinet meeting.
“We have already received a lot of feedback from buyers saying that our phones are as good as their Samsung or iPhones phones,” Arpine Amirian, a TSD representative, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on Thursday. “That’s a very high mark for us.”
“We do the design work in Armenia to see, for example, what kind of cameras are convenient for a particular Android system or processor,” explained Amirian. “We then order production of such separate parts in various places: mainly Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Taiwan.”
“All major mobile phone brands use production facilities in Shenzhen,” she said.
Anecdotal evidence suggested that the new smartphones did attract a strong interest from Armenians curious to get their hands on a first-ever cellphone manufactured in their country.
“If it really has the parameters of iPhone or Samsung Android phones, I’ll definitely buy the Armenian phone,” said a young man visiting an electronics store at a Yerevan shopping mall.
“I’m buying an Armphone with my first-ever pension,” said another shopper, a middle-aged woman. “I just want to support our manufacturer.”
While national pride and patriotism might be enough to earn Armphone a major share in the local smartphone market, it remains to be seen whether its manufacturer currently employing about 120 people can attract many buyers abroad. Mesrop Arakelian, an Armenian economist, predicted that TSD will have a hard time competing with much bigger and more renowned foreign competitors.
“Chinese companies, for example, can produce several million phones a day and set much lower prices of their products even in Armenia,” argued Arakelian.
For now, at least, TSD’s emergence represents a boost to Armenia’s burgeoning information technology (IT) sector dominated by Armenian subsidiaries of U.S. software giants. The IT sector employing around 15,000 people expanded by about 20 percent last year. Its combined output, estimated at $550 million, was equivalent to roughly 5 percent of Gross Domestic Product.