Tencent, the company behind China's most popular instant messaging client QQ, is planning to launch its own Android smartphone in the country.
The phone, which is made by network equipment supplier Huawei, was announced this week and is called HiQQ. It will come installed with 19 of the company's applications, including the QQ chat client, a browser, and access to a microblogging service.
Tencent has yet to announce a launch date or a price for the device, but it expected to be around 1000 yuan (US$150). It will be built using Huawei's U8500 smartphone and later the C8500 model.
One of the major features touted by the company is easy synchronization with contacts made through Tencent's social networking services. Tencent already has more than 655 million active accounts through its QQ instant messaging client, according to Beijing-based research firm Analysys International. With the device, users can quickly connect with friends over QQ and post information and pictures to their Tencent-operated blogs and user profiles.
The new device points to a new trend in the Chinese mobile industry as Internet companies seek to play a bigger role.
Before, handset manufacturers could simply build their own phones and sell them, said Lu Libin, an analyst with Analysys International. But now the mobile applications and content built into handsets have become a major selling point, he said.
"This is the new trend. The applications are becoming a core part," Lu said, adding that more tech firms are seeking to pre-install their mobile applications on new smartphones.
Telecom operators like China Mobile, the country's largest mobile carrier, have done the same. The company has promoted smartphones installed with services built by China Mobile as a way to generate more revenue. Taobao.com, China's largest online retailer, also launched a handset branded with its own name that was pre-installed with the company's shopping application.
Launching these kinds of smartphones is expected to help Internet firms further promote their mobile products and tap into a growing user base, analysts add. China has 300 million mobile Internet users, according to recent statements from the Internet Society of China.
"I'm kind of surprised it took so long for a QQ phone to come out given the massive user base for Tencent," said Duncan Clark, chairman of Beijing-based technology consultancy BDA.