The Inquirer-Home

Danger: Sidekicks at work

Hello little darling
Thu Oct 03 2002, 11:03
SILICON VALLEY'S darling device start-up, Danger, came of age Tuesday with the launch of its innovative phone/data device by T Mobile USA under the "Sidekick" moniker.

The Sidekick is rectangular with dimensions 11.6cm x 6.5cm x 2.8cm (4.5" x 2.6" x 1.1") and a weight of 150 grams (5 ounces). It has a 2.6-inch long rectangular display which swivels round to reveal a full if dainty QWERTY keyboard underneath. The user navigates through, and selects functions, with a browser wheel. A full HTML browser is included, POP3 email is supported, and AOL's IM is available. This is a GPRS device.

T-Mobile (formerly known as Voicestream) is the first carrier to sell the device - Orange is signed up in Europe. T Mobile is doing so for US$199 after a $50 rebate, which makes it significantly cheaper than the other PDA/phone combinations on the market.

Handspring is the nearest - its cheapest Treo is being offered for US$350 via the latter's website. Other Pocket PC devices are being sold through the U.S.'s national carriers for around US$800 a pop.

Customers will pay T Mobile's GPRS charges - a monthly service fee is $39.99 for unlimited data minutes, 200 voice minutes and 1,000 weekend minutes.

This mass-market appeal was a key element of Danger's initial plan. The company was founded by ex-Apple Computer, WebTV and Philips employees, while many of the rank and file were previously involved in the video games industry.

Employees were out in full force at the company's home launch at the T Mobile shop in Palo Alto. Kitted out in funky 'Danger' t-shirts one or two were showing off the unusual device to interested passers-by, the rest were taking pictures of each other using the camera attachment and generally eating doughnuts and rubbing shoulders with besuited Valley types.

A line of people snaked out of the shop while satisfied buyers wandered around with their new devices safely in hand.

Leigh Klotz, Jr, a senior software architect at Xerox was one of the early few to buy a Sidekick. This is his first mobile phone, but he'll be typing his communications. "I don't feel the need to talk to people," he said. Indeed he got the Sidekick to replace his two-way pager after being frustrated by the latter's slow transmit times.

"It was definitely the device that lead me to T-Mobile," he said, citing fast browsing and the camera attachment as other attractions. As for the new form factor, which he described as "sturdy but with a quirk", Klotz said, "I don't see this being the Sony Walkman of web-enabled phones but it's a breakthrough."

Another attendee felt that while the device marks the beginning of a new wave of innovative voice and data gadgets to hit consumers, the Sidekick hasn't quite got it right yet. He picked out the monochrome screen as not appealing to gamers and the lack of an MP3 player an oversight (though there is an accessory and USB slot for further expansion). He also didn't think the form factor would work well for heavy phone usage.

Industry watchers have had their eye on Danger not only because of its innovative design but also because it has an unusual business model -- providing content and mail services to the device for the carrier on an outsourced basis. Attention has been accentuated by delays to launch.

The whole package, which Danger calls the "Hiptop(TM) Wireless Solution" was awarded Best of Show winner in the PDA, Handheld and Mobile Wireless category at the 2002 Consumer Electronics Show in January, in Las Vegas.

It was also first runner up for Overall Best of Show. The company has the distinction of being the first company for more than four years to employ Mr. Steve Wozniak, original Valley child and father to the PC, and now a member of the Danger board. µ


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