Cheap Facebook phone designed to attract the masses

By , IDG News Service |  Personal Tech, cell phone, Facebook

Mobile phone outfit INQ Mobile, launched Thursday, hopes to attract the masses to mobile data with the new INQ1, which comes with built-in support for Facebook, Skype, Last.fm and Windows Live Messenger as well as a low price tag

The phone has been developed by INQ in collaboration with mobile operator 3, both of which are backed by Hutchison Whampoa.

"This move reflects, I think, a growing frustration of mobile network operators about the dominance of the top five manufacturers; because operators have found they can't get the features and specifications they want on devices cheaply enough to target new data services at low cost contracts or for the prepaid market," said Ben Wood, director of research at CCS Insight.

The phone will at first only be available from 3. Subscribers in the U.K. will get the phone for free if they sign up to an 18-month contract with 3 at £15 (US$22.50) a month, which includes unlimited Facebook, Skype, Windows Live Messenger and Web access, 75 free minutes of calls to phones on other networks, unlimited text messages, e-mail and free 3-to-3 calls.

The INQ1 also will be available for £79.99 for users who want to pay as they go.

The phone will be launched by 3 in other countries, and eventually from other operators as well.

Besides the low price, making Internet services easy to use was a priority. Using Facebook on the INQ1 should be as simple as making a phone call, according to INQ CEO Frank Meehan. Users get one-click Facebook access and live updates pushed directly to the screen of the device.

"A headline feature of the phone is also the way the address book is populated from Facebook, Skype, Windows Live Messenger, and the fact that you can really easily merge all the accounts together for a single person," said Wood.

Other applications, including Skype and Windows Live Messenger, are also visible on the screen of the INQ1, eliminating the need to go through menus. Users can also add their own widgets, including a Google search bar.

Wood also likes the way the phone can collect the picture from a Facebook account, and then use that as the picture ID for phone calls.

The INQ1 is a slider phone, and comes equipped with a 3.2-megapixel camera, a 2.2-inch display and support for data speeds of up to 3.6M bps (bits per second), using HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access).

The timing of the introduction of the phone seems to be just right. The use of, for example, Facebook on mobile phones has started to show impressive growth, increasing from 5 million active users at the beginning of the year to 15 million, according to Facebook

INQ Mobile hopes that number will increase even faster, thanks to the INQ1.

"Social networking for the younger demographic seems to be a very powerful hook; Facebook now has 15 million active mobile users and in the context of where we've been with mobile data in the past it's pretty incredible," said Wood.

Social networking for mobile phones has been a hot topic all year. Earlier in 2008 Vodafone and Nokia acquired social-networking companies, and Garmin signed a deal with mobile social-networking startup GyPSii.

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