Helio launched today. There has been a long string of announcements leading up to the big day, and we are finally here. I'm anxious to get my hands on a device so I can try out some of the new features such as HOT, BEG and GIFT. They appear to be very cool devices with a rich experience built in. There is no doubt that it is one of the richer mobile data experiences on the market.
A lot of the questions I've been getting to date really aren't answerable, but I'll give it a shot.
Q: Are the handset prices too high?
Probably not for early adopters who tend not to be price sensitive. Vcast handsets also launched in the $200 to $300 price range and they sold a few. They sold a lot more once the price dropped below to the $100 price point in mid-summer 2005. We'll know when/if the handset price is too high when they drop the price. Most consumers want a less expensive device, but these aren't the consumers Helio is targeting. I'm more interested to see how long it takes for a more fashionable device from the likes of Nokia, Motorola or Apple to appear in their line up.
Q: Is the service priced too high?
Again, majority of mobile consumers want great coverage plus low priced service for voice and a subsidized handset. This isn't Helio's target market. They are hoping for about one percent market share five years out. Comparing pricing for fully loaded data services with video among competitors … anyone buying Helio's service can rationalize that it's not too bad … and if they are really heavy users, they may even come out ahead.
One concern … with a small network (i.e., few people) with purchased airtime, in-network calling can't be free. 1000 minutes with free in-network calling adds up a lot more slowly than if you are being charged to call everyone.
Q; Are there really that many heavy data users out there?
What we do know from our research is that the number is growing quickly – both in terms of adoption and usage. Also, with migrating online experiences to the cell phone (e.g., MySpace, Yahoo! announcements), they are making it easier in that the mobile experiences will be more familiar to their users … hopefully, this will translate into more airtime usage.
Q; Are the carriers worried about the impact of Helio on their business?
They haven't answered this question for me directly, but I think the answer is "no" at least in the short term. Sure, the carriers want every customer they can get and the ones Helio is targeting are high margin customers. That said, the number of subscribers that Helio is likely to pull in in the next two to three years is relatively small for a carrier like Cingular or Verizon. Also, Helio is not necessarily stealing from Cingular or Sprint – they are also going head-to-head with other high end services such as Voce, ESPN, Amp'ed, etc. I think the carriers will welcome the help in building the market and driving demand from mobile subscribers for more data services.
Verizon and Sprint have likely spent (ok, and I'm not a TV ad analyst, but I do watch prime time)tens if not hundreds of millions introducing mobile subscribers to mobile video, for example. I've seen Sprint product placements on 24. I've seen Shaq on Vcast. That can't be cheap. I think that a collective effort to build this market and drive consumer awareness and interest up would be welcome.