3 does Facebook phone for Generation Data

And tube travellers...

And tube travellers...

Mobile operator 3 has unveiled a phone designed for accessing web 2.0 services such as Facebook that it hopes will do for data consumption what Apple's iPhone has done for smartphone uptake: light the blue touchpaper.

Speaking at a launch event in London, Kevin Russell, CEO of 3, said: "The iPhone is a fabulous product - a breakthrough in usability. The Google [Android] phone is an exciting direction. But for us, we want to open this whole marketplace up in terms of usage of data for mobiles."

The operator announced it will be offering the new phone to tap into rising demand for data services, made by new maker INQ under the brand name Social Mobile. The device has been designed for always-on integration with a range of mobile social networking and IM services including facebook, Windows Live Messenger and Skype.

Frank Meehan, CEO of INQ - and previously director and general manager of 3G handsets and products for 3's parent group Hutchison Whampoa - said the vast majority of existing mobile internet customers use their phones for email, social networking, VoIP, IM and video sharing yet mass market handsets have not typically been designed with these services in mind.

"If you get the user interface right - easy to use, with access to key services - like the iPhone, like the BlackBerry… you can really drive [mobile internet] usage up," he said.

The phone is client-based so it syncs in the background with web services such as Facebook, pulling in contact and profile data and updating it automatically. The client system also means social networking services can still be used when there is no network reception, for instance, on the London Underground.

The slider style candybar (pictured here) - which has a traditional 12-key keypad - runs INQ's own operating system which is based on Qualcomm's Brew OS. On 3, the pay monthly tariff will be £15, while the device will cost £79.99 on pay-as-you-go.

It is intended to be the first of "many" social mobiles, Meehan added, with a full Qwerty offering was planned 2009.

The two CEOs added they are keen for other operators to take Social Mobile, after an initial period (measured in months) of exclusivity to 3. However Russell claimed the big incumbent operators are not as keen to embrace mobile internet services as 3. "Their desire to embrace the internet is not great; their desire to hang onto their existing customers is great," he said.

Social Mobile will be launched in the UK in the next few months, according to 3.

Photo credit: 3/INQ