Else hypes new platform, smartphone to U.S. carriers

BARCELONA, Spain--Israeli firm Else Mobile, a subsidiary of Emblaze, has BlackBerry aspirations. The company is pushing a new device and platform it hopes will catch the eye of European and American operators.

The company's approach is much like Research In Motion with its BlackBerry platform, albeit with a slight twist. Just like BlackBerry, Else hopes to engage users with a novel smartphone platform--a Linux-based OS developed in conjunction with Japanese software vendor Access that adheres to the LiMo Foundation's specifications--and bill for services via wireless carriers. The company this week released the platform (yet another smartphone OS!) as well as its first device running on the platform--the First, which is manufactured by Japan's Sharp. Else will seel the device under its own brand.

If and when its business gets rolling, Else plans to release a software development kit for its smartphone operating system, dubbed Intuition, so third parties can build apps for its devices. The company also said it plans to develop additional devices for the platform, if it gains traction.

Though much of Else's business model mirrors that of RIM, there is one clear break--Else said it hopes to license out its OS to other manufacturers so they too can build Intuition-based gadgets. It's unclear though how that strategy will play; Android, Symbian and other such platforms are already available to manufacturers for free, and have dramatically more momentum and support. RIM does not license its BlackBerry platform.

Despite the massive challenges facing Else--from getting carrier customers to enticing third-party developers to its untested platform--the company's director of product management, Roni Liberman, sounded a hopeful tone here at the Mobile World Congress trade show.

"Today in the market there is so much room" for new players, Liberman said. "You see the market starting to shift very fast."

Liberman said the impetus for Else was Apple's entrance into mobile with its revolutionary iPhone. Liberman said the design of the now-iconic product motivated Else owner Emblaze to get into the smartphone game and attempt to build on the momentum Apple started.

The result is Else's First gadget. In an extensive demonstration of the phone, Liberman explained that it is designed for one-handed use, that it smoothly handles voice calls by allowing users to continue with whatever tasks they're doing while they answer or ignore a call, and generally features smooth navigation and intuitive controls.

Liberman said Else is targeting European and American GSM carriers with the device, and is in advanced discussions with two such carriers to sell the gadget (though he declined to name them). He said the company's First phone would be ready for mass production by the second quarter of this year and then ready for commercial distribution by the third quarter--pending a carrier partner.

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-see Else's site