INQ1 means mobile social web is for everyone

14 11 2008

This morning 3 UK announced a cool new handset, the INQ1, a low-cost device designed to make it easy for people to access web services and social networking sites. I was lucky enough to be shown the INQ1 device last week when the CEO of INQ, my compatriot Frank Meehan, dropped into the Ovum office to meet us and show us his new toy. INQ (pronounced “ink”) is the new independent handset division of 3’s parent company Hutchison, and the INQ1 is its first branded device to market.

The handset itself is nice enough, a fairly solid and compact brushed-aluminium slider. It feels well put together, the screen is good quality, it’s an attractive if somewhat nondescript handset. But this handset is all about the software and the promise it holds. Running a proprietary OS based on Qualcomm’s BREW platform, this is the first time a handset vendor has tried – really, truly tried – to deeply integrate the web and internet services into a mass-market device. And I think that’s a really exciting prospect for people who like the mobile web.

You can read all about the INQ1’s deep integration of Skype and Facebook into its contact list, and all the other services it offers (widgets, IM, email – all the stuff the kids are down with) somewhere else. Suffice to say that when I was playing with the phone, it all did what it says on the tin. The UI is pretty simple and colourful, the ‘carousel’ application launcher is easy to navigate. I really liked it. My sister would probably like it too.

And I guess that’s the point. My sister doesn’t necessarily want to pay for a Nokia N96 or an iPhone just so she can access Facebook from her phone. And why should she? Facebook doesn’t require a fast processor, a touch screen, a GPS. It just needs a well executed software solution. INQ has noticed the bleeding obvious – that the mass market is using social networking sites and messaging hand over fist on the desktop – and has provided a simple and – now this bit is really important – CHEAP way of shifting that established and hugely popular behaviour onto mobiles. This is a handset that will get more people using more data and more mobile services. Awesome!

This is good for consumers because it helps them connect in ways they enjoy, without costing an arm and a leg. It’s good for carriers because it opens up a huge addressable market for data revenues and value-added services, while lightening the burden of expensive handset subsidies. I think INQ has made a really good bet, and I hope it succeeds. Of course it won’t be easy for INQ to grow from a standing start into a significant market force, so success will be measured partly by the reactions of other handset vendors. INQ has proven it’s possible to build a cheap handset designed around the web. Let’s see if Nokia and the others can respond.

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