Rise of the Chinese ODM

skypephoneback.gifSince the mobile operator 3 first launched and video calling didn’t take off, it has always tried to undercut rivals with discounted call costs. Skype on mobile isn’t new. From a business perspective, the Skypephone could be viewed as just another (rather sophisticated) play on tariffs. However, take the new Skypephone and forget Skype on mobile for a moment…

What I believe what is revolutionary is the phone itself. It’s the first time we have an inexpensive 3G phone that can (nearly) match the specification of today’s smartphones. It’s amazing a Chinese ODM has produced such as capable, small and stylish phone in such a short time – and it can be sold retail for only £49.99. This raises the game for Smartphone manufacturers.

The problem with ODM phones, of course, is that they are unbranded – and people like buying brands. This is where 3 have cleverly tied in the Skype brand. I can imagine operators/ODMs producing similarly cheap phones associated with other brands – Google initially comes to mind – but it could be any company that can offer content or services… or maybe even just a strong brand.

For those of you who want to learn more about the phone, here are some more random observations…

  • The phone keys have a good feel – In my opinion better than even Nokia keys
  • The magnetic back cover catch adds to the great feel
  • It’s great to be able to charge via USB
  • The 3G, Bluetooth, web browser, camera , video recording, SMS all work well
  • There’s also a built-in email application that supports POP and IMAP
  • It’s great to see Skype so deeply integrated into the phone – into contacts and even the call log
  • The phone installed JAVA GMail OK and functioned well
  • The Java VM is produced by iaSolutions (from Taiwan I think)

I ran mobilezoo‘s Java app on the phone to create the first genome for this device. This revealed a few things…

  • The device identifies itself as a Amoi 8512
  • The browser user agent is ‘Amoi 8512/R18.0 NF-Browser/3.3- – hence, the phone is using Access’ Netfront browser supporting WML, HTML 4.01, and cHTML
  • The phone has a good selection of Java JSRs – including multimedia, Bluetooth, Fileconnection, PIM and 3D graphics

Here are some areas where I think the phone could be improved…

  • The fonts seem very jagged
  • It’s sometimes confusing to press the Skype key to OK things in other apps – you wonder if Skype will suddenly start up – but it thankfully doesn’t
  • I have found no way to change the phone theme or colours
  • I have found no way to zoom the camera
  • A few larger JAVA apps didn’t install – I got Error 901 – Insufficient memory
  • Standby battery life of 3 days is much less than advertised (320 hours). However, running Skype continuously probably had something to do with this.

Despite these limitations, it’s a great phone.