Android satellite phone in the cards
Mobile satellite services operator Thuraya outlined the roadmap for its new SatSleeve product line for the iPhone yesterday, which will include a data-capable version and an Android version - just as soon as the company works out which form factors to support.
The SatSleeve effectively turns an iPhone 4 or 4S into a satellite phone via a cradle and a clip-on satellite receiver. The devices are paired via Bluetooth, and users can download an app that gives them the interface to use the satellite phone (to include importing their contacts).
The satellite component also doubles as a battery charger for extra juice when needed, and comes with an "SOS" button that allows users to make emergency calls to a pre-assigned number if the iPhone is damaged.
Thuraya said it will launch a new SatSleeve for the iPhone 5 in the next month or two, followed by a data version in Q3.
The data capabilities won't be that much, but fairly typical for handheld satellite phones - 16 kbps. John Huddle, head of media and broadcast services for Thuraya, says that's sufficient for low-level apps like email, Twitter and OTT message services like WhatsApp.
"There used to be what we thought of as a ceiling to the satellite handset business, and this helps break that ceiling because it's more appealing to a different type of consumer."
That consumer segment is still in the high-end bracket - SatSleeves come with a suggested retail price of $500.
Meanwhile, Thuraya is also working on SatSleeve for Android phones, with the main challenge being the sheer variety of form factors in the Android ecosystem.
"There's something like 280 different Android phones, vs three iPhone designs, so it made sense to do a sleeve for the iPhone first," Huddle said. "With Android, the question becomes, which horse do you back?"
Thuraya won't say, but Huddle says they are talking with partners and consumers, "doing the market analysis to see which are the best Android devices to design the cradle for, and we expect to be making some announcements later this year."
In the meantime, Thuraya also announced that it has strengthened its alliance with its global service partner, Astrium Services, which will add SatSleeve to its service portfolio, as well as Thuraya's recently launched IP+, and Maritime Broadband services.