LONDON - First there was "the Facebook phone." Now there's "the Twitter phone."
INQ, the upstart handset maker owned by Hong Kong conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa, on Tuesday unveiled two new phones aimed at consumers who want to tweet, poke on Facebook and browse the Web at their leisure without shelling out for an iPhone or Nokia's N97. Much like its first handset, which was dubbed "the Facebook phone" and released last year in Europe and Asia, INQ's new phones are heavily geared towards social networking and include a Twitter application.
This is the first time INQ has unveiled a Twitter app that will allow users to post Tweets via the Internet without using SMS text messages. Like INQ's other phone applications, such as Facebook and Skype, the Twitter application is "always on," meaning it will be possible to cycle between programs without quitting or launching every time.
The two new handsets, dubbed the INQ Mini 3G and the INQ Chat 3G, are slated for release in the fourth quarter. CEO Frank Meehan says the Mini should hit store shelves in September, while the Chat--which features a BlackBerry-esque QWERTY keyboard--will be out before Christmas. The phones will be launched first in Britain, Italy, Australia, Hong Kong, Sweden, Ireland and Austria; Meehan says more countries will be announced later.
It's clear the new INQ handsets will be cheaper than the 3G "smart phones" from Nokia or Apple. Meehan told Forbes in July that the new phones, like the INQ 1, would be sold to network operators for less than $200 per unit--some 40%-50% below the estimated wholesale price of the iPhone. This low price allows operators to offer affordable plans for consumers and encourage all-important data usage. [snip]
There could be some tough competition ahead for INQ, especially as Nokia and LG wake up to the appeal of the mass market with Apple dominating the high end. Nokia is set to release a new touch-screen phone, the 5530, priced at around 199 euros ($285.02). It's certainly pricey, relative to INQ, and again with no 3G connectivity, but it could be just the start for the Finnish manufacturer if it pushes touch-screen technology further into affordable price points.
But for Hutchison Whampoa's billionaire chairman Li Ka-Shing to sanction this rollout of new handsets at a challenging time for consumers in Britain and Italy, two of INQ's biggest markets, it's clear that INQ must be doing something right.