Samsung, Sony Ericsson unveil new smartphones

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The Independent Tech

Samsung Electronics and Sony Ericsson unveiled new smartphones on Sunday as the two companies seek to catch up to their rivals in the fast-growing segment of the mobile phone industry.

South Korea's Samsung and Swedish-Japanese group Sony Ericsson showed their new multi-media handsets in Barcelona, Spain, on the eve of the industry's biggest annual gathering, the Mobile World Congress.

The two companies trail far behind Nokia, iPhone-maker Apple and BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion (RIM) in the market for smartphones, devices with Internet, emails, music players and games.

The touch-screen Samsung Wave, to be launched in May, is the first device fitted with company's new mobile operating system, Bada, which was unveiled late last year.

"This is a new era, the smartphone era," JK Shin, Samsung Electronics head of mobile communications business, said at a launch party which featured a huge video presentation with splashing waves and a live dance act.

"Samsung is committed to making the smartphone era available for everyone. We are committed to making the smartphone era a true democracy for billions of people on all continents in all corners of the world," Shin said.

Jean-Philippe Illarine, telecommunications marketing director at Samsung Electronics France, told AFP the Wave would be the crown jewel of about 15 smartphones that Samsung will launch this year. No sale price was released.

The company aims to sell 18 million smartphones this year, tripling last year's figure, Illarine said.

Samsung, with a 20.1 percent share of the mobile phone market last year, is the world's number two mobile phone maker after Finland's Nokia, according to research firm Strategy Analytics.

But it only captured 3.2 percent of the smartphone market in the third quarter of last year, far behind Nokia, RIM and Apple, according to research firm Gartner.

"Smartphones are sort of our weak point," Illarine said.

Consumers have shown a big appetite for smartphones.

While global shipments of handsets grew by 10 percent in the last quarter of last year compared to the same period in 2008, smartphones jumped 30 percent, according to Strategy Analytics.

And while handset sales are expected to grow by nine percent this year, smartphones will skyrocket by 46 percent, according to Gartner.

The Samsung Wave has a 3.3-inch long touch screen with a five-megapixel camera, high-definition video and the all-important applications store, which allows users to download games and news programs.

Shin said the Samsung applications store, which was launched in France, Britain and Italy last year, would be available in more than 50 countries this year.

The Wave is among around five Banda smartphones to be launched this year, Illarine said.

Samsung will also release five or six other smartphones this year powered by Internet giant Google's Android operating system and a few more with Microsoft Windows.

Sony Ericsson, the world's fifth biggest mobile phone maker and a pioneer of the smartphone segment, has lost ground in recent years.

Its chief, Bert Nordberg, conceded in Barcelona on Sunday that the company had gone through a "turbulent year".

The company unveiled its first Android smartphone, Xperia X10, in November. On Sunday, it displayed its touch-screen "little brothers", the X10 Mini and the X10 Pro.

Sony Ericsson will also launch Vivaz Pro, which includes high-definition video and works under Nokia's Symbian operating system.

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