Hutchison to develop low-cost iPhone killers – working with Facebook

21 Oct 2008

The parent company of mobile operator 3 is about to introduce an affordable, one-button, touchscreen, internet-capable handset called the INQ that will threaten the market of high-end smart phones currently dominated by the iPhone, Nokia E71 and BlackBerry Storm.

The company has worked with Facebook to develop applications that will merge the social networking world with the mobile device.

The device could hit most markets before Christmas and retail for less than US$50, said group finance director of Hutchison Whampoa, Frank Sixt.

Speaking at this morning’s annual TIF (Telecommunications and Internet Federation) Conference at Dublin Castle, Sixt said that the company has launched into handset development with the intention of bringing out easy-to-use devices that offer better value to customers.

“In addition to scaling our data networks, we are working to get simpler, less expensive devices into the hands of consumers. We are also working to bring down the barriers to pricing.”

He said that the new handsets will feature easy-to-access internet and just a single button for navigation.

“We started down this road two years ago in 2006 with the first suite of popular apps for the Nokia N-series phones. When we integrated Skype functionality, suddenly users were able to make voice calls over Skype and text using the economies of the internet. We then developed the Skype phone with voice and instant messaging (IM) delivered on flat packages.”

He said the success of this move can be demonstrated by the fact that there are now 300,000 Skype phone users worldwide.

Hutchison’s latest venture – the INQ – named after the first ever internet enquiry command prompt –is about to kickstart a new generation of low-cost mobiles, said Sixt.

“It will feature deep integration of key internet services. The first handset will be available before the end of the year.”

Sixt said that Hutchison has worked closely with Facebook so that it integrates into address lists on the handset, meaning the internet and cellular experience become one.

“We will bring IM (instant messaging), Skype and email to the front of the device. It will be reasonably priced for consumers. This is a reaction to the fact that it is still the case that most internet handset development is aimed at high-end, expensive devices such as the iPhone.

“We think our mission with INQ is to deliver the same or better than these devices, but at a mass-market price point.”

“By pushing the envelope – to under US$50 – we hope this will encourage other device manufactures to move mobile internet to the mass market rather than just aiming at high-end devices

“Even if it means cannibalising our content offerings, the INQ needs to work like the rest of the internet.

“When it is introduced, we will apply flat-rate pricing structures across the board. We don’t believe in per minute or per megabit charging in the future,” Sixt said.

By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years