Report: Asus Releasing Another Gaming Smartphone in 2019

Credit: AsusCredit: AsusDigiTimes reported Monday that Asus is looking to release a second-generation ROG Phone in the third quarter of this year, potentially with plans to partner up with Tencent to bolster the gaming smartphone's appeal in China.

Asus released the first ROG Phone in October 2018. The device came equipped with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor, Qualcomm Adreno 630 GPU and a six-inch AMOLED display with a 90Hz refresh rate. It also bore a hefty price tag--the model with 128GB of storage cost $899, and 512GB cost $1,099. That's before accounting for the many accessories that allow the ROG Phone to become a handheld console or (weak) gaming PC.

The release of such an expensive device was poorly timed. Strategy Analytics, as well as Counterpoint Technology Market Research and other analysts have reported that global smartphone shipments declined for the first time in 2018. While it's possible the ROG Phone was the exception to the rule, it's hard to imagine people dropping a grand on a gaming smartphone when even market leaders like Apple and Samsung failed to meet expectations.

But that doesn't seem to have deterred Asus. DigiTimes said the ROG Phone 2 (for lack of an official name) is still expected to debut this year. The report didn't offer any details about the upcoming device, nor did it provide an overview of Asus' strategy. Will the company merely iterate on the ROG Phone, prioritize a lower price over performance improvements, or invest even more in powerful hardware? We'd like to know.

The reported partnership with Tencent could actually be at the center of Asus' strategy for the next ROG Phone. It's hard to overstate Tencent's power: it offers services related to messaging, shopping, entertainment and many other categories. Just think about the combined might Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook have in the U.S. And then imagine all of that influence belonging to one company. That's Tencent for China. 

Tencent's hold over the gaming market could be particularly useful for the ROG Phone 2. The company is a mobile gaming juggernaut, so if it incentivizes people to buy Asus' next gaming smartphone, people will be likely to listen. But even that might not be enough because the Chinese smartphone market declined in 2018 as well. It's still massive--Counterpoint said it's one-third of the market--but not as big as it was before.

If this report is correct and Asus really does plan to release a new ROG Phone despite market challenges, the manufacturer will be reaffirming its belief that gaming smartphones are the future. Combine that with Razer's reported plans to release another gaming phone and the announcement of the Apple Arcade game subscription service, and it seems that companies believe mobile gaming could turn the smartphone market back around.