INQ continues its 'social phone' mission

OvumUpstart handset manufacturer INQ has announced two new models to be available in 4Q09, hoping to build on the success of the award-winning INQ1. INQ’s deep integration of popular social media services (Facebook, Skype, webmail and now Twitter) into affordable handsets continues with the INQ Mini 3G and the QWERTY-equipped INQ Chat 3G.

Smartphone or smartphone-like?
INQ received plenty of credit for the INQ1 (winning Best Mobile Handset at Mobile World Congress in January) and armed with this vindication of its strategy the company has pressed on, expanding its device portfolio and adding more web-friendly features. The INQ philosophy is to enable customers to use web services without needing a high-end smartphone, and the company has cherry-picked some of the most popular social web services and focused on integrating them very tightly into its devices.

This approach seems to work: INQ claims that 65% of INQ1 users on 3’s UK network use Facebook regularly, around 30% are using mobile email and 19% are using Skype on the device. Use of Windows Live Messenger is 3-4 times that of other 3G devices on 3’s network, with around 50% of customers using the service at least once a month. These figures are an impressive demonstration that, as long as the user experience is good, mobile data use is not necessarily limited to expensive smartphones – which require high carrier subsidies and tend not to be affordable to mass-market customers.

QWERTY is the killer feature
Both new handsets use INQ’s OS based on Qualcomm’s BREW platform, can be used as HSDPA modems when plugged into a Mac or PC, and have expandable memory up to 8GB through micro SD cards. They also feature INQ’s presence-enabled address book, which allows a user to view status updates and choose how to contact a person – through voice, SMS, Facebook, Skype, IM or email – without needing to enter separate applications.

INQ has clearly decided that its handsets have to look the part if they are going to appeal to younger buyers, with a comprehensive redesign. Both new handsets are sleeker and more rounded than the INQ1, and have interchangeable back plates so users can choose their preferred color. Build quality will be essential: INQ needs these devices to be perceived as affordable but not feel cheap.

The Chat 3G has a BlackBerry-esque form factor with a full QWERTY keyboard – essential for the new Twitter client, mobile email, Facebook and IM integration. This addresses Ovum’s main criticism of the INQ1, that text entry was tricky. Other hardware specs include a 3.2-megapixel autofocus camera and integrated GPS with Google Maps preloaded. The Chat 3G also has a new email client that supports push Gmail (INQ claims at no added cost to the operator). INQ aims to sell the Chat 3G at a cost to carriers of under $200 (compared to $185 for the INQ1).

The Mini 3G is the entry-level model, will cost carriers under $150, and is a compact slider with a numeric keypad and a 2.0-megapixel camera.

Using doubleTwist for media management saves reinventing the wheel
Somewhat surprising is INQ’s choice of doubleTwist as media management software on Mac OS and Windows. This is a piece of software from Jon Lech Johansen (aka DVD Jon), who became an Internet counterculture celebrity when, as a teenager, he was involved in cracking the CSS encryption software for DVDs. The rationale for doubleTwist is to have a single piece of media management software that supports a very wide range of devices and codecs, and can transcode media files from the user’s content library to a format that will play on the device. This makes it incredibly easy for users to move content onto their devices, eliminating formatting hassles.

Ovum has tested doubleTwist with some other devices – it works as advertised – and is impressed that INQ selected it for media management duties rather than attempting to build its own software. The world definitely does not need yet another bloated piece of vendor-specific media management software, and doubleTwist has the sort of web cool factor that INQ is clever to associate itself with.

 

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