LONDON--Mobile operator 3 has unveiled a phone designed for accessing Web 2.0 services such as Facebook that it hopes will do for data consumption what Apple's iPhone has done for smartphone uptake.
Speaking at a launch event here, Kevin Russell, CEO of 3, said: "The iPhone is a fabulous product--a breakthrough in usability. The Google (Android) phone is an exciting direction. But for us, we want to open this whole marketplace up, in terms of usage of data for mobiles."
The operator announced that it will be offering the new phone, the Inq1, to tap into rising demand for data services, made by new maker Inq under the brand name Social Mobile. The device has been designed for always-on integration, with a range of mobile social networking and instant-messaging services, including Facebook, Windows Live Messenger, and Skype.
Frank Meehan, CEO of Inq--and previously director and general manager of 3G handsets and products for 3's parent company, Hutchison Whampoa--said the vast majority of existing mobile-Internet customers use their phones for e-mail, social networking, VoIP, IM, and video sharing, yet mass-market handsets have not typically been designed with these services in mind.
"If you get the user interface right--easy to use, with access to key services--like the iPhone, like the BlackBerry...you can really drive (mobile Internet) usage up," he said.
The phone is client-based so it syncs in the background with Web services such as Facebook, pulling in contact and profile data, and updating it automatically. The client system also means that social-networking services can still be used when there is no network reception, for instance, on the London Underground.
The slider-style candybar design--which has a traditional 12-key keypad--runs Inq's own operating system, which is based on Qualcomm's BREW (Binary Run-time Environment for Wireless). On 3, the monthly subscription will be 15 British pounds, while the device will cost 79.99 pounds on a pay-as-you-go agreement.
It is intended to be the first of "many" social mobiles, Meehan added, including a full QWERTY offering.
The two CEOs added that they are hoping for other operators to adopt Social Mobile, after an initial period of exclusivity to 3. However, Russell claimed that the big incumbent operators are not as likely to embrace mobile Internet services in the way 3 is. "Their desire to embrace the Internet is not great; their desire to hang on to their existing customers is great," he said.
Social Mobile will be launched in the United Kingdom in the next few months, according to 3.
Natasha Lomas of Silicon.com reported from London.