If a Vietnamese person does recognize Bkav, they probably know the firm’s free antivirus software and might possibly know of Bkav’s outspoken founder, Nguyen Tu Quang. But Bkav is a company with technology interests that span security software and services to smart home hardware – and now a new phone called the Bphone. Unveiled today during a livestreamed event, the Bphone has been hotly anticipated for months by Vietnam’s techies.

The Bphone is priced at VN$10 million (US$500). The specs, next to the iPhone 6 Plus, seem pretty strong.

It’s an ambitious first phone. The event this afternoon mirrored this ambition, with top leadership at Bkav stepping on stage like at a launch event by Apple (or Xiaomi). They compared the new Bkav phone to the iPhone 6 and other top-end competitors. The event was nothing short of the biggest PR stunt a Vietnamese company has ever pulled off with a rumored VN$10 billion (US$500,000) going into it – including renting out one of the top event spaces in Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital, and sending out beautifully crafted metallic invitation cards.

Vietnam’s hottest tech event

Bkav, although it specializes in antivirus software, actually makes most of its money from contracting advanced security software for the Vietnamese government. Bkav is almost like a Vietnamese Palantir. And with little or no competitors in the space, Bkav has had a solid run with a sustainable cash cow to fund more ambitious projects like its smart home technology (last year it demoed technology to automatically open curtains and control other aspects of the house, from lights to air conditioning). And now there’s the Bphone. Given its background, Bkav somewhat resembles Blackberry and it’s possible that it hopes to supply Vietnamese officials with a more secure phone. Vietnamese officials often sport a dumbphone for fear of hacking.

The chatter on social media about the event – we watched the livestream after Bkhav’s PR people, if it even has any, did not reply to our requests to attend – is a mixed bag. Many Vietnamese are very supportive of the new phone, which is pridefully Vietnam’s first smartphone. At the same time, the outlandish nature of the event is seen as overkill.

Regardless of the opinions, it’s been the hottest topic in Vietnam’s tech ecosystem and that is a big start. It remains to be seen how well the phone will do in the market so we’ll be revisiting the Bphone next month when its gets into the hands of more customers.

By Anh Minh Do - TechInAsia - May 26, 2015