Ocean smart phone could broaden Helio's appeal

Helio's new Ocean phone may be stylish and cool, but it's also functional--which just might attract more mainstream users.Photos: Four new phones
Written by Marguerite Reardon, Contributor
ORLANDO, Fla.--Helio, the mobile operator for ultra-cool hipsters, will likely broaden its appeal to more mainstream customers with its latest phone, called the Ocean.

The Ocean, unveiled here at the CTIA Wireless trade show on Monday, is the world's first dual-slider phone that slides vertically to reveal a numeric keypad and slides horizontally for a full QWERTY keypad.

Four new phones

The device merges text and picture messaging, and Internet e-mailing from all major portals with corporate e-mail synchronization that allows users to get e-mail from Microsoft Exchange servers. The phone also provides over-the-air music downloads, video on demand, a high-resolution camera, an HTML browser, MySpace access, GPS-enabled Google Maps, and buddy tracking.

"The BlackBerry is very focused on corporate users," said Sky Dayton, CEO of Helio. "But something like the Sidekick doesn't have access to corporate e-mail. Young consumers are growing up. And they want corporate e-mail too."

While the case could be made that even hipsters have jobs, it's more likely that the new Ocean phone will appeal to a broader audience of subscribers. Handset makers, such as Samsung with the Blackjack, Motorola with the Q, and Research in Motion with the BlackBerry Pearl, have each introduced smart phones in the past year that are geared to what are called "prosumers."

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These are not typical corporate users who may use one device for corporate e-mail and messaging, and another cell phone for personal use. "Prosumers" are those who buy their phone directly and use it as their personal phone, as well as for accepting work calls and e-mail. For these customers, they want the functionality of a corporate messaging device like a BlackBerry, but they want the style and comfort of a phone that fits neatly in their pocket. And they want access to both corporate e-mail and Internet-based e-mail from companies like Yahoo, MSN or Google.

While Dayton emphasized that Helio is not changing its focus from providing services and devices to the ultra-hip, he admits that the Ocean may have a wider appeal than the company's earlier phones, the Heat and the Drift, which are also packed full of multimedia capabilities, sans the QWERTY keyboard.

"I definitely think you will see us broaden our appeal in the future," Dayton said. "But to be honest, you'd be surprised at the age of some of the customers that we have now."

The price of the new device is about $295 with a two-year contract. Helio also offers "all-in" plans that include unlimited data services and text messaging for a set price, with no hidden costs for new services. Prices start at $65 per month for 500 minutes of talk time and go up to $135 for 2,500 minutes of talk time. The new Ocean phone is not yet available; it will go on sale later this spring.

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