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Hutchison subsidiary to bring low-end, social networking phones to U.S.: INQ to use BREW to integrate Facebook, other services

Social networking is exploding in mobile, according to figures released by ABI Research. And Frank Meehan thinks he knows how to capitalize.
ABI polled 500 users of online social networks and found that 46% of respondents had used such services from their phones. MySpace and Facebook were the destinations of choice by an overwhelming margin, claiming 70% and 67% of mobile social networkers respectively; no other site reached 15% adoption.
Meehan hopes to tap that booming market with INQ, a Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. subsidiary slated to be unveiled this week. The outfit will make low-end cell phones that integrate services such as Facebook, eBay, MSN and Skype in an effort to undercut flashier – and more expensive – devices.
“We’ve built a multitasking environment on top of the BREW platform. Basically you just log into Facebook and the client goes out and fetches all your contacts, punches them into the phone, and asks if you’d like to integrate some or all of your contacts with the address book. It’s the same thing with Skype and MSN,” said Meehan, who serves as INQ’s CEO.
U.K. carrier 3 plans to roll out the devices by year’s end, Meehan said, and INQ is planning for a half-dozen other market launches by mid-2009. A U.S. debut could come later next year.
The company has a chance to gain a foothold in these early days of mobile social networking, according to JupiterResearch’s Julie Ask, because – unlike siloed offerings like the Facebook application – it allows users to easily access a host of networks, moving easily from MSN’s instant messaging service to view friends’ Facebook updates. And the phone’s contact list serves as the foundation.

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