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Technology

Samsung plots path to camera sensor leader, starting with Xiaomi

South Korean player poised to gain on Sony by helping lure Instagram generation

An upcoming Xiaomi handset will feature a 64-megapixel image sensor from Samsung.   © Reuters

BEIJING/TOKYO -- Samsung Electronics will supply Chinese smartphone makers Xiaomi and Oppo with ultrahigh-resolution image sensors, bringing the South Korean group one step closer to global leader Sony in the market for camera sensors.

Xiaomi said Wednesday that an upcoming handset of Redmi, its brand targeted at younger users, will feature Samsung's GW1 64-megapixel CMOS sensor unveiled in May. The sensor offers the same level of quality as high-end digital single-lens reflex or mirrorless cameras.

The new camera phone will take pictures with 34% higher resolution than 48-megapixel sensors, the highest today, Xiaomi said. At a news conference, the company showed off a blown-up image with visible road signs to drive home this point.

The world's first 64-megapixel phones will debut soon, Li Jishuo, vice president of Samsung's system LSI division, told the briefing in Beijing. Samsung will keep creating new products and technologies with Xiaomi, Li said.

By choosing Samsung's cutting-edge sensor, Xiaomi -- which set up a dedicated division for camera development last year and hired development personnel not just in China but in Japan, the U.S., Europe and India -- wants to win millennials around the world hooked on Instagram and other social media who are increasingly picking their handsets based on camera performance.

The importance of photo quality for smartphone users in China is evident from Huawei Technologies' dominance of the market with a 30%-plus share while Apple's iPhone is just No. 5 with a share of less than 10%, said an IT device analyst.

"Huawei has established a reputation as the best selfie phone brand," the analyst said.

Samsung decided to supply sensors to Xiaomi for its presence in China and emerging economies. The world's fourth-largest smartphone maker also boasts the No. 4 position in China with more than 10% of the market, while it is at the top in India and has been gaining fans in Russia as well. Given that Samsung's own phones are not big hits in China, the South Korean company apparently made a strategy change to attempt to expand its operations there by becoming a supplier for a rising rival.

Samsung will also be doing business with Oppo, the world's No. 5 phone company. The Chinese company is expected to unveil new models of Realme handsets for emerging markets that come with a Samsung sensor, according to Chinese media. Realme is growing popular in India and Southeast Asia.

Samsung wants to win business for high-end models in China and steal market share away from Sony, said Tetsuo Omori at Techno Systems Research in Tokyo. Samsung holds a 20% share of the global CMOS sensor market.

Seeking to protect its stronghold, Sony -- which commands half the market worldwide -- has set aside 600 billion yen ($5.66 billion) for capital investment for a three-year period through fiscal 2020.

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