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Sleek toaster maker Balmuda to serve up smartphones in Japan

Creative appliance designer confident to stand out in crowded market

Balmuda is know for appliances with sleek design and unique features, like a fan billed to produce "natural-feel breezes."    (Photo by Rie Ishii) 

TOKYO -- Balmuda, an appliance company known for its minimalist-design toasters, will debut smartphones in Japan as early as November, promising to offer a product that stands out in a crowded market. 

The Tokyo fabless company will design and develop handsets, outsourcing production to manufacturing partner Kyocera. The 5G-ready Android phones will be available exclusively through wireless carrier SoftBank Corp., and models without SIM cards will be offered as well.

"Smartphones today seem all the same, and consumers have few options," Balmuda CEO Gen Terao said Thursday. "This offers an opportunity for us. We seek to become No. 1 in terms of uniqueness, rather than market share."

The company's smartphone business is projected to generate around 2.7 billion yen ($24.6 million) in sales this year.

"This is the biggest market that we can take on," Terao said, referring to the smartphone space. The CEO declined to elaborate on the concept and price range, but said the new handsets will "not merely be a stylish appliance." He pledged to create proprietary apps and offer "great everyday-use handsets."

 Balmuda CEO Gen Terao says Japan's smartphone market does not offer many choices.

Balmuda is credited for creating demand even in unexciting appliance markets with design-focused products that offer advanced features. Its portable fans, billed as producing natural-feel breezes, became a smash hit, as did toasters featuring steam technology costing upward of $300 in the U.S. The company debuted on the Tokyo Stock Exchange's Mothers market in December.

The smartphone market is a tough space in which to stand out, despite its sheer size. Having lost customers to Chinese and South Korean rivals, electronics behemoths in Japan have exited or sold their operations.

Balmuda benefits from pandemic-fueled demand for its upmarket appliances. January-March operating profit more than quintupled on the year to 454 million yen on a 93% surge in sales to 3.7 billion yen, the company reported Thursday. Business was robust in South Korea as well.

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