3 unveils INQ 1 Facebook phone


Mobile phone operator 3 today pulled the covers off one of the worst kept secrets in the mobile sector, its first social networking-focused phone, the INQ 1.

The handset launch has been subject to significant online speculation and information leaks over the past month.

It follows on from the success of 3's Skypephone launch last year, and the follow-up Skypephone S2 handset, which combine a 3G mobile phone with integrated Skype application and instant messaging tools. The INQ1 is a smaller slider-style handset with a 3.2 megapixel camera and features an updated version of the software set used on the S2.

As well as featuring all the same core applications as the S2, the INQ 1 focuses on Facebook, allowing for both offline and online browsing of Facebook contacts and content, syncing content in the background when signal is restored. Unlike the S2, the key applications such as Facebook, Windows Live Messenger, Skype and the phone address book are integrated, allowing for shared single inbox views of incoming messages and chats, along with shared contact details across applications and voice call alerts.

A set of open APIs mean that other applications can take advantage of this low-level integration and content sharing, such as an eBay application that will be made available as an over-the-air download shortly after the handset goes on sale.

"As of last month, we have over 800,000 users actively using internet services on the 3 network from their handsets. That's things like Facebook, Messenger, email and Skype," said Kevin Russell, chief executive of 3 UK.

"The Skypephone was a huge catalyst for this growth and the INQ 1 will build on it. The phone takes a service that people want to access and makes it really useable in a mobile setting on a mobile device."

The focus 3 is putting on data services for its handsets was underpinned with statistics that showed in the last month the network carried over 3.5 million emails, two million web searches and 20 million minutes of Skype calling, along with 44 million Facebook pages.

"We are probably the fastest growing ISP in the UK based on our data traffic," added Russell.

Similar to the S2, the INQ 1 supports 3.6Mb/sec HSDPA data transfer and can be used as a USB dongle. No specific battery life figures were quoted, but it uses the same battery as the Skypephone S2 and similar underlying hardware, suggesting figures will be similar.

However, the INQ 1 employs traffic manager software which regulates the data connection and closes off data connections and ports when they are idle, which INQ claimed will minimise unnecessary power use.

The INQ 1 will be available on both contract and pay-as-you-go (PAYG) deals, with both options including unlimited web browsing, Skype, Facebook and instant messaging use. Contract customers will also get unlimited push email service in addition to bundled minutes and unlimited texts.

INQ has been created as a brand to cover a range of new affordable handsets, starting with the INQ 1, which will offer handsets with high-end features and support for new and emerging online services, but without the high subsidised hardware costs associated with feature phones from the leading household name brands.

"Networks can't keep putting huge whacking great subsidies into phones. It is not sustainable and takes away from being able to develop the tariffs," added Frank Meehan, chief executive of INQ.

The INQ 1 will go on sale in early December costing 79.99 on PAYG and free on contracts starting at 15 a month.