Cellphone maker INQ Mobile is launching two new low-cost cellphones optimized for social networking applications to give mobile subscribers alternatives to more expensive smartphones.
INQ, which is owned by Hong Kong's Hutchison Whampoa, launched its first low-cost, "smartphone-lite" device earlier this year. And now the company is expanding its portfolio with two new devices, one of which has a full QWERTY keypad.
The phones do not run full browsers and the operating system used on the device is Java-based and not nearly as sophisticated as smartphone operating systems used on devices such as the Apple iPhone or Research in Motion's BlackBerry.
But INQ has integrated many of the most popular Web services, such as Facebook and Twitter, onto their handsets to give consumers a smartphone-like experience at a much lower price point. And because the device is not considered a smartphone, subscribers can typically sign up for less expensive data plans using the INQ phones.
In addition to tight integration for one-click access to Facebook, Twitter, and other Web services like Skype, the new INQ devices can also sync with unprotected music stored in iTunes and Windows Media Player.
Just how cheap are the INQ phones? Well, if AT&T can sell the Apple iPhone for $99 with a two-year contract, INQ CEO Frank Meehan believes that U.S. operators could afford to offer the INQ mobile devices for anywhere between $25 and $50 with a two year wireless service contract. And in many cases operators could even offer the phones for free in exchange for a two-year service commitment.
The two new phones announced this week are the INQ Chat 3G phone, which has a full-QWERTY keypad and looks like a colorful BlackBerry, and the INQ Mini, which is shaped like a candy-bar and comes with a standard cell phone keypad. The devices are expected to go on sale in six countries on Hutchison's operator 3 later this year. These countries include the U.K., Ireland, Sweden, Italy, Australia, and Hong Kong.
The Mini, which will cost less than $150 without a carrier subsidy, will go on sale in September. And the INQ Chat 3G, which will retail for less than $200 without a carrier subsidy, will go on sale in October.
Meehan said the company is still working on a deal with a U.S. operator. But the phones could end up on this side of the Atlantic next year.