Orange Friends Facebook in Effort to Boost Smartphones, Feature Phones
France Telecom’s Orange unit plans to start selling a range of home-grown phones with dedicated Facebook buttons and tight integration with the popular social network.
The three new devices are part of an effort that the French carrier hopes will increase its appeal to both younger phone buyers and those in emerging markets in Europe and Africa.
The phones will start showing up in a handful of markets next month, arriving in most countries early next year. One of the phones is a low-end Android phone, while the other two are even less expensive feature phones. All three are made by TCL Communication Technology, the Chinese company that acquired the Alcatel device business and brand name.
In an interview, Orange’s Vice President of Devices Patrick Remy said that despite the growth of smartphones, nearly half of customers are still leaving its stores with something other than a smartphone.
“We strongly believe we can do a better job, and we need to do a better job,” Remy said. The new Facebook-centric phones are one of several strategies that Orange is trying, an effort that also includes placing support staff in its stores to help new smartphone users, and efforts to help cull the masses of apps in the Android Market for those who may be intimidated by the selection.
Each of the phones is tightly integrated with Facebook’s existing software for Android and for feature phones. Earlier this year, Facebook acquired Snaptu, an Israeli company that focused on bringing the social network to feature phones.
The new Orange phones are separate from the work Facebook is doing on a higher-end HTML5-based platform, announced earlier this year.
Orange isn’t the first to tap the popularity of Facebook in an effort to boost smartphone sales. For much of this year, HTC has sold two phones — the Salsa and ChaCha (known as the Status in the U.S.), both with dedicated Facebook buttons. INQ Mobile also sells a Facebook-centric phone, though it has yet to be made available in the U.S.
Orange already sells the ChaCha, as well.
“The ChaCha is a great device with a good level of integration,” Remy said. But, he added, with the lower price of the Vancouver smartphone, Orange is “opening up some additional and new opportunities.”
With the Android device, Orange is looking to offer both a low-priced device and low service pricing. In Romania, for example, Orange plans to charge just 9 euros a month for a plan that includes unlimited use of the Facebook app, along with a bundle of voice minutes, 200 text messages and 60MB of data.
Orange plans to sell the pricier of the two feature phones for less than 60 Euros unsubsidized, and the lower-cost one for less than 40 euros.
In all three cases, Remy said, the goal is “making sure that Facebook was only one click a way whatever you are doing with your phone.”