from the first-impressions? dept
It’s been a little over a year since Earthlink and SK Telecom announced plans to team up and build a mobile operator in the US, using existing networks (originally thought to be Verizon Wireless’, but now thought to be Sprint’s) that would bring some of the leading edge mobile devices and services from South Korea to the US. It was a great idea, designed to appeal to the early adopters who lament how South Korea seems so far ahead of the US when it comes to mobile service. The team at Helio has said a lot of the right things about treating customers right and not trying to limit them, but it’s still quite difficult to build up a new mobile operator brand from scratch (something that it appears some of the other new MVNO upstart competitors are discovering). A few months ago when the venture, renamed Helio, finally revealed some info about its plans, it was disappointing to see the main focus on integreating Helio with MySpace — what seemed like a very limited offering (and one where it made no sense to be tied to a single mobile provider). Helio has now officially launched and there are a few more details — some that look good and some that will raise some eyebrows.
First, while it’s still talking about the MySpace connection, it appears that the integration is being played down a bit. This may make a lot of sense, as the MySpace generation seems to be more targeted at teens, and Helio claims to be going after a slightly (just slightly) older demographic. The issue that’s going to raise the most questions is the pricing — which looks high when starting at $85/month. Helio accurately points out that you get a lot included for that price (perhaps more than a comparable plan from other providers), but even those who understand that fact may still balk at seeing a price that looks so high compared to other mobile operators. It’s going to take quite a marketing job to convince people the fees are worth it — especially with a brand name no one is familiar with. Some of the pitch from Helio appears to be that the pricing plans are simple and there are no tricks involved — but potential subscribers will still need to be sold on that (and, if it’s not true, they’re going to be even angrier). Many mobile subscribers aren’t happy with the eventual bills they get… but it’s not clear if it’s such a big pain point that people will immediately jump to another provider who’s just as expensive — but more upfront about it.
Also, for all the hype about bringing the cool South Korean mobile services to the US, the initial offerings are fairly mundane. There’s a Helio on Top service that will update various feeds of info on your screen. These kinds of push services make a lot of sense in the mobile space, but by kicking it off with just a few preset partners, it’s fairly limiting. This is a perfect spot for Helio to just put RSS in place — opening up a ton of interesting possibilities. Someone at Helio claims that the next version will support RSS — so they’re clearly moving in that direction, though it’s not clear why they didn’t launch with it working (that would have generated additional interest in some of the circles they’re clearly targeting). The other idea that’s going to get a lot of attention is the “gifting” and “begging” features that will let people send content to others or ask others for content they’ve bought. It’s a nice feature in theory — but it’s not clear how compelling it really will be. It still seems like Helio has a lot of promise, but the initial launch still seems a bit short on the immediate “wow” factor many were hoping to see. Hopefully, that will change over time.