Remember all that talk about a Facebook phone? And by that I mean an Android phone built by various cell phone manufacturers optimized for social experiences with Facebook’s help. If you want a refresher, read this interview Mark Zuckerberg gave TechCrunch last September where he explains Facebook’s mobile strategy. One of the first partners planning to come out with a Facebook phone will be INQ Mobile, a British startup owned by Hutchison Whampoa (HTC is also working on its own Facebook phone).
INQ channel manager Andrew Bennet came by my office today to show me a pre-production version of the phone, which will be called the INQ Cloud Touch (the company is also developing a version with a qwerty keyboard called the INQ Cloud Q). In the exclusive video I shot above, Bennet takes us through the main features of the phone. The phone is built on top of Android with a Facebook wrapper, with features pulled up and enhanced from the Facebook app itself. It looks a bit like a white iPhone, except front and center is a visual feed from your Facebook News feed. Arrows let you flip through the latest status updates, photos, videos, and shared articles from your friends, bringing up media from the underlying links in Flipboard fashion.
Along the top are four Facebook buttons: People, Events, Notifications, and Places. The People button shows you the feeds of your closest friends as determined by Facebook’s Open Graph API. It’s like a friends and family circle on a mobile calling plan, except it shows you the feeds of your “top” friends, which you can swipe through. The phone also ingests all the details it can about your Facebook friends into the local address book so you have one unified social address book.
The Events button pulls all your Facebook events such as birthdays and whatnot into Google Calendar. Notifications keeps you up to speed on your latest Facebook friend requests and messages, and Places lets you check into restaurants, bars, and shops. Along the bottom, there is button that pulls up Facebook Chat (the old chat, not the new unified messaging system), and the familiar mobile grid icon that pulls up all the main menu page of the underlying Facebook app.
Oh, and there’s one more thing that has nothing to do with Facebook. INQ replaced the native Android music player with Spotify. Yes, there have been rumors of an INQ Spotify phone for a long time, but rather than a separate phone it will just be a branded feature of the Cloud Touch. Good thing INQ is planning on launching the phone first in Europe where Spotify service actually exists. It is shooting for a May launch, followed by one in the U.S. if it can convince a carrier to sell the phone here (in which case Spotify will only serve as the phone’s local music player instead of a full streaming service unless it suddenly becomes available here).
So is this an iPhone killer? No, but it’s not trying to be. It is a decent Android phone for the Facebook generation, and it is going to be teenage-cheap. Depending on the subsidy from the carrier, this could end up costing consumers as little as $50 with a contract (perhaps $250 without one, although pricing has not yet been finalized).