BARCELONA—What do you do if you’re a relatively young handset shop and you’re surrounded by big-name handset makers, hot-shot Internet search giants and something on the order of 50,000 trade show attendees? Well, you throw a party, that’s what.
At least, that’s part of INQ’s strategy as it gets ready to sponsor the GSMA’s annual gala on Tuesday night. This year, the traditional sit-down dinner is shelved, to be replaced by a performance by Duran Duran, the English rock band of the 1980s fame –
and what’s likely to be a whole lot of dancing at the Palace that sits above the Mobile World Congress exhibition.
Speaking Monday in a meeting room tucked in a stand at the back of Hall 7, INQ CEO Frank Meehan says he knows what he’s up against when it comes to establishing a brand. The company is holding talks with carriers – including those in the North American market – and doing what it can to establish a name for itself. The company also has a booth near the entrance of MWC and, in an effort to get its name out there, it’s sponsoring the aforementioned party.
Last year around this time, the Skype-integrated INQ1 took home the Best Handset trophy in the Global Mobile Awards, which are traditionally announced at the gala.
INQ is trying to break into the mobile phone market with phones priced near the low end but packed with features, including social networking. In fact, INQ incorporated Facebook into its first phone design well before it became pretty much standard fare for other, bigger handset designers. And although this has not been confirmed, it’s quite likely that INQ integrated Twitter into its phone designs well before Larry King and Ashton Kutcher staged their famous “most followers” Twitter contest.
INQ isn’t making any grand announcements at MWC, but it is talking about a model for the Android platform. At the same time, INQ currently uses and isn’t backing away from BREW, which is gaining traction as AT&T recently proclaimed it’s getting behind the Qualcomm home-brewed platform.
INQ’s brand is mostly targeted to the under 30 age market, and its phones sell for around $160 (U.S.) or free with a contract. INQ offers three models, including the INQ Chat 3G, which is available in Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Singapore, Sverige and the United Kingdom. The two other handsets also are available in various markets, but not the United States. “I am extremely focused on getting the U.S. market, and I am going to stick with it until we get it,” Meehan says.
As for trying an end-run around the carriers, similar to what Nokia tried? Meehan, whose background is with a U.K. operator, says that’s not the plan. Google can do it – it’s got the clout, but that’s not the way for a handset maker like INQ to get a gig going.
Before founding INQ, Meehan was general manager of 3G Handsets and Applications for Hutchinson Whampoa. He and INQ co-founder Ken Johnstone were part of the team that worked on the first 3G network outside of Japan.
So with that 3G network background, what’s his take on the heat that AT&T has been getting in the United States? “I think AT&T is very unfairly treated,” he says. “I think they took a very bold and courageous step, and everybody is talking about the Internet simply because AT&T made that decision. They should be applauded for it… Nobody has the sort of traffic that AT&T has got.”