Smartphone start-up Wileyfox unveiled its first devices for the European market, seeking to emulate the success of Asian new-entrants such as OnePlus and Xiaomi.

At an event in London this week, the company highlighted that its strategy involves partnerships with some key industry players – namely Qualcomm on the hardware side and Cyanogen for software. Its devices are (unsurprisingly) manufactured in China by an unnamed assembler.

Nick Muir, European CEO of Wileyfox, noted that while Asia has seen strong growth for new vendors offering competitively-priced smartphones, this has not so far been replicated to the same extent in Europe – although players such as Huawei’s Honor and Karbonn Mobile have tried.

“The reason why we haven’t seen much in the way of entry into the European market, and indeed the Middle East and Africa and further west, actually, is because none of the organisations that are gaining so much ground in Asia Pacific have infrastructure here. They don’t have European brand, they don’t have the support,” he said.

Wileyfox said that one of the benefits of working with Cyanogen – it will offer the first EMEA devices preloaded with Cyanogen 12.1 – is that it offers enhanced privacy controls and does not feature “bloatware” installed by vendors. “There’s no need for it – consumers are surely savvy enough and well enough educated to download the apps they want,” Muir said.

And at the launch event, Kirt McMaster, CEO and co-founder of Cyanogen, said that “differentiated experiences” will be necessary for new entrants to succeed in the competitive European market.

“Wileyfox could launch with stock Android, and while that’s an option, there’s not a lot of differentiation there. I think that some of the things you are going to see from our partnership over time are going to be unique to the region,” he said.

The company’s smartphones will be sold online through its own store, as well as through partners such as Amazon, Ebay, JD, Souq, Expansys and Clove. After-sales service will be provided by European call centres.

Business building
As with the new entrants focused on Asia Pacific, Wileyfox is looking to undercut its more established rivals on price, suggesting that the premium prices demanded for smartphones by the biggest player are “down to the fact that a lot of our competitors have massive organisations to support”.

Wileyfox Close Up“Our costs and our ability to go to market at a good price point – and £129/€169 is a very well-considered price point – is not dictated by the hardware per se, it’s dictated by the cost of the organisation. And we are a very light organisation – we don’t need a huge headquarters, we don’t need a staff of hundreds, we just need what we’ve got,” Muir told Mobile World Live.

Acknowledging that low-cost device prices means that profit margins are “not huge”, he said that the numbers Wileyfox is looking at are “comfortable enough to allow for fluctuations in the market, comfortable enough to allow for contingencies and marketing spend, and enough to allow us to scale the business as well.”

Muir said that while he “doubts very much” that the company will publish sales numbers, there is more to its initial launch than just the numbers.

“I think success for us is coming to everyone’s attention in the first instance. If we sit up and make people take notice, and if it turns out we are at the vanguard of a whole new generation of younger companies arriving, with great products and great offerings and all the rest, I’ll be very pleased to see that,” he said.

At the launch event, he said: “If we look at a process of one to three years in terms of building towards significant scale, that would be a realistic target. We are hoping to make significant inroads with the first couple of products, but it’s fairly new to Europe, the idea of being online only.”

Device details
Wileyfox is initially launching two devices, Swift and Storm, with availability from September and October respectively. Swift is the lower cost smartphone, priced at £129/€169, with Storm at £199/€249.

Both devices are unlocked LTE with dual-SIM support, and run Cyanogen OS 12.1 on top of Android 5.1.

Swift has a 5.0-inch HD (720 pixel) screen, and is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 quadcore processor. It has 13MP rear and 5MP front cameras, 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage, with microSD expansion slot.

This puts it on a par with the latest incarnation of Motorola’s popular Moto G, which costs £209 in 2GB RAM/16GB storage version. Motorola’s device offers a range of customisation options and is IPX7 water resistance.

Storm has a 5.5-inch full HD (1080 pixel) display, and is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 octacore processor. It has 20MP rear and 8MP front cameras, 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, again with microSD expansion slot.

This puts it on a par with Motorola’s Moto X Play, but with Storm including a higher-spec front camera and more RAM. Moto X Play costs £319 in 32GB form.