Facebook is about to get a brand new bag with the release of three budget phones aimed at new smartphone users and developing communities. The phones were developed by Alcatel and will be released and supported exclusively by Orange, one of the UK's leading mobile providers.
The phones will have three tiered prices with more features being offered with more expensive models. The top model, the Alcatel One Touch 908F will cost approximately $130. The middle model, the One Touch 813F, will cost approximately $80 and the cheapest model, the One Touch 585F will cost about $54.
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All the phones will come with Facebook pre-loaded and deeply integrated into all their features including a dedicated Facebook button. People can use Facebook to sync their address books and calendar reminders, browse multimedia and send and share messages and photos. The phones feature touch screens, full keyboards and a variety of connectivity options.
While the two more expensive models are aimed at first-time smartphone users, the 585F was built with emerging markets in mind. The phone has GPRS connectivity and limited media functionality. This, however, is to make sure that the phone can be used in remote areas that might not have strong coverage.
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The three phones mark a big step for Orange, which is touting the new products as a way to spread and democratize the mobile Internet. "What matters to [our customers] is for them to stay connected to their communities, to their close friends, to their families and Facebook is usually at the center of that," says Patrick Remy, Orange's VP of Devices. Orange has been working to trim not just the phone cost but the data and mobile plans. Remy says that in Romania, for example, data plans will start as low as $12 a month.
Orange is taking Facebook integration seriously. While data and calls will be subject to standard rates, Remy says that customers will be able to use unlimited Facebook connectivity for free.
This is a huge deal especially with the lower-price 585F meant for developing communities. Phones are sometimes the only way people in these areas can access the Internet. Not only will this option allow them to access the Internet for free, but it positions Facebook as the de facto portal and lifeline to messaging, information and community.
Orange has put in place several safeguards to make sure that emerging markets can reliably access and get the most out of these phones, including a "Digital Coach Strategy" to help new users understand their phone's features and the ability to sign up to Facebook directly through the phone. "We are a network operator," Remy says. "We only live and breathe if we provide a good quality service in terms of connectivity."
Although the 585F has fewer features, Orange built it to work in low-coverage areas. "We have to make sure that we don't over-promise ... there would be nothing worse than selling these relatively high-market devices and [our customers] were not able to access the wealth of rich information that we offered." The 585F, for example, won't have the same rich multimedia experience as its more expensive siblings but will come with fast and consistent Facebook messaging and community tools.
The phones are expected to roll out across Europe and Africa as early as December with countries added through early 2012.
Will Orange's Facebook phones help democratize the Internet? Is Orange milking a new market or providing an invaluable service? Sound off in the comments.
Image courtesy of Flickr, ICT4D.at
This story originally published on Mashable here.