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Chinese telecom firm Huawei caters to selfie craze with new smartphone

Visitors try out the Huawei Ascend P6 Android-based smartphones during their launch at the CommunicAsia communication and information technology exhibition in Singapore.

EDGAR SU/REUTERS

Chinese telecom company Huawei is looking to carve out a niche in the highly competitive smartphone market by catering to social-media mavens obsessed with shooting "selfies."

Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd.'s superthin Ascend P6 is a direct challenge to Apple Inc.'s iPhone, but with a high-definition, five-megapixel self-facing camera and software that will automatically smooth skin tones and get rid of wrinkles – a bet on the Internet's latest self-portrait, or "selfie," craze.

"Selfies are the beginning and the end of people's fascination with social media right now," said Sidneyeve Matrix, a professor at Queen's University who specializes in social media.

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Analysts remain skeptical about whether the better camera and beautification software will be able to draw customers away from heavy hitters like Apple and Samsung Inc., which control the lion's share of the smartphone market.

At little more than six millimetres, the P6 can lay claim to being the thinnest smartphone on the market, but not the lightest – at 120 grams, it outweighs the iPhone 5 by eight grams. The phone has a 4.7-inch high-definition screen that is so sensitive, the company claims it can be used wearing gloves, and comes with a 1.5-GHz quad-core processor, only marginally slower than the Samsung Galaxy S4.

Canadians will have to wait to try out Huawei's latest offering. The phone will ship to China and Europe this summer, but will not be offered in North America any time soon, said Scott Bradley, vice-president of corporate and government affairs for Huawei Canada.

"The smartphone market in Canada is different than the smartphone market in most countries around the world," Mr. Bradley said. The fact that most consumers pay a nominal fee for their smartphone, then pay the rest off over a period of three years – a term that was recently limited by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to two years – means that it is difficult for new entrants to compete, he said.

The P6 also is not equipped for the long-term evolution, or LTE, network, which is the standard in North America, Japan and South Korea, but is still in its infancy in many parts of Europe, China and Latin America.

That shows that Huawei is still aiming specifically at the markets where it has already established itself as a brand, said Charles Golvin, an analyst with Forrester Research. While the brand is unfamiliar in North America, Huawei is one of the top five cellphone companies in the world, in addition to its business building telecommunications infrastructure all over the world, he said.

"Operators are very familiar with Huawei," Mr. Golvin said. "They've been a very aggressive competitor on the network equipment side and there's no reason to believe that they wouldn't be as aggressive and have as great ambitions for similar kind of achievement in the handset market."

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