Who would have thought there was room in the crowded handset market for an enitirely new category of mobile phone?
New company INQ reckons there is and has laid its claim on bringing the brand new category of ‘social mobile’ to the table, tipping that the future of mobile phones isn’t in 20-megapixel cameras or 80GB music players, but the Internet and social networking.
INQ execs insist that the rise of using social networks via mobile phones has created a gap in the market that other manufacturers, try as they might with integrated application menus, aren’t as innovative about meeting.
INQ head of marketing and strategy Jeff Taylor says mobile Internet hasn’t yet taken off in the mass market because phones that are good for web browsing have traditionally been placed with top-end tariffs.
“It’s not because people don’t love these services,” says Taylor. “They hammer away on them on their PC at home, but nobody has successfully managed to transition this across to the mass market. You hear great stuff happening in the top 10 per cent of the handset market, but they’re at hideously expensive price points and in form factors that don’t necessarily appeal to everyone.”
INQ’s mission to deliver functional, affordable, Internet-based devices to the masses under the new category of ‘social mobile’ saw the INQ1 come up against the Nokia E71, T-Mobile G1, BlackBerry Storm and LG KS360 to be awarded best handset at the GSMA Awards staged at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
The INQ1, dubbed ‘the Facebook phone’ and reviewed in our February 2009 issue (you can see our verdict on page 41), appears to have naturally gravitated towards the under-25 market, although Taylor stresses that INQ devices will be for “everybody”. “I have three aunts who are on Facebook,” he says.
To reach “everybody”, INQ plans to expand its range this year beyond the debut INQ1, taking shape in a range of form factors.
INQ chief executive Frank Meehan (pictured) reveals, “There are definitely more phones coming. We will have to address the QWERTY keyboard market, as INQ is a socially connected device. But under 19s are not that keen on QWERTY, they prefer T9 so we would keep that format for that market.
“We should cover the majority of form factors within the next 12 months. All operators are chasing low cost Internet phones, on low-end contracts or prepay.”
Upcoming INQ releases will feature new applications, such as eBay and Twitter, which the company believes will complement rather than compromise its Facebook application. Anyone who has already bought an INQ1 will be able to update their software to incorporate the new applications.
Its no secret that INQ has a close connection to 3, as it’s owned by the same parent company, Hutchison Whampoa. However, the INQ execs say this doesn’t tie them to 3 forever – although it was certainly a good springboard for kicking off into the market – and they are in discussions with three of the other UK networks to partner future INQ launches; a likely time frame being next year.
“We’re actively talking to loads of operators around the world,” says Taylor. “We’ve been thrilled with the response. The GSMA award really put us on the map and now we can’t stay still long enough. We have a lot of insightful things in the pipeline.”
Twitter wasn’t on the original list of INQ1 applications (as eBay was), but with its huge increase in popularity in recent months, an application is rapidly being developed and will be a free addition.
By mid April, INQ should have rolled out the new firmware for the INQ1 as a free OTA (Over-The-Air) upgrade. It brings a series of improvements to the handset. The Facebook client will be quicker to receive updates and new pictures, while the long awaited eBay application will be available. With improvements to Windows Live Messenger, Skype and push-email, the INQ1 becomes even better value.