The maelstrom that is the cellphone business has a new player. Called INQ
, the handset maker held a North American launch in Toronto today, believing the phone will carve out a good niche for itself.
Is there really room in this crowded industry for a new niche?
Frank Meehan, the founder and CEO of INQ (pronounced “ink”) Mobile, a standalone company wholly owned by Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. and based in London and San Francisco, says that the industry is experiencing “a perfect storm,” and the opportunity lies in a simple concept that no other handset maker is aiming for: cheap social networking.
The INQ 3G Chat smartphone
has applications built into the operating system that log users directly into Facebook, Twitter, Instant Messenger and e-mail, and offers a unified inbox that shows all the messages together. Built on a modified BREW operating system
, the 3G Chat also offers the Opera Web browser, a camera (that can post pictures almost immediately online), an RSS reader for syndicated feeds and Double Twist, which will allow the phone to play iTunes music. INQ also offers automatic software upgrades over its HSDPA wireless connection
, currently one of the fastest cellphone connections.
One thing it will not do is synchronize with e-mail systems such as Microsoft Outlook because, Meehan says, because the 3G Chat is not being marketed as a business tool, but a social one for younger users.
Meehan rejects any protests that most of this can be found on other current handsets. That’s because the competition’s smartphones are expensive — too expensive, he says, for the kind of people who use those services the most, by which he means users 18 to 24 years of age. And according to his homework, 82 per cent of Canadians under the age of 30 do not own a smartphone because “the cost is prohibitive.”
So the 3G Chat is going on sale in Canada through the Koodo cellphone service
provider for $50 with no fixed-term contract. Customers can use the Koodo Tab package, described as a “non-contract” system that lets users run a tab toward the price of a new mobile phone.
Part of INQ’s strategy, Meehan says, is the BREW operating system, created by Qualcomm, which is much leaner than its main competitors, RIM’s BlackBerry, Apple’s iPhone, and Google’s Android. Those three require much beefier processors, which raise the price of the handset.
The Chat is not INQ’s first phone. In 2008, the company released the INQ1, a handset custom-engineered for wireless Internet use that won the Handset of the Year award at the Mobile World Congress. That was followed by the INQ Mini Phone, a 1q2-key device, and the INQ Portal. The new 3G Chat has a full QWERTY keyboard, which will be familiar to anyone who has operated a Blackberry.
Next year, Meehan expects to introduce a device with a faster processor, the Android operating system and a touch screen.
The strategy behind the Android is slightly different than the one he’s using for the 3G Chat. He calculates that there are only two operating systems that have any sizeable loyalty, the BlackBerry and the iPhone, and he doesn’t expect Apple’s iPhone to stand up too well against the Android system.
“In two to three years,” he said, “Android and open platforms [non-proprietary operating systems] will overwhelm Apple. It will happen to all proprietary operating systems.”