What are Sprint and Kyocera up to with the dual-touchscreen Echo smartphone?
The Android 2.2-based Kyocera Echo is a decidedly different take on smartphones, with dual 3.5-in. touchscreens that can be used independently, side-by-side or combined (with 4.7-inches total tablet size, once the two screens slide out on a pivot hinge and are fitted together).
The Echo, which was announced Monday night in New York, will sell sometime in the spring for $199.99 after rebate with a two-year plan and a data upgrade. Some reviewers and bloggers held the device and gave their initial impressions, including Computerworld's Barbara Krasnoff.
In an interview with Computerworld on Tuesday, executives at Sprint and Kyocera said the Echo evolved because both companies saw a big opportunity with a dual-screen device that would allow more effective multitasking for users. That way, both companies could serve a large target market of smartphone customers who make up today's "hyper-tasking culture," said David Owens, vice president of product realization for Sprint.
Also, Sprint wanted a device that cried out "innovative," as the carrier works to improve its third-place rank in the U.S. carrier market behind AT&T and Verizon Wireless, Owens said.
For Kyocera, a truly innovative device, such as the Echo, would be a way to re-emerge as a prominent smartphone maker, said John Chier, director of corporate communications for Kyocera Communications Inc.
Kyocera purchased Sanyo Electric in 2008 and has used the Sanyo name on some products. Kyocera claims that it introduced the first smartphone to North America in 2001 -- the Palm OS-based Kyocera QCP6035, he said.
The hyper-tasking culture
Owens said Sprint relied on a multitude of market research about multitasking with devices and the "hyper-tasking culture we've created."
Citing surveys from online market research firm BIGresearch, Sprint learned that 70% of people are watching TV in bed while doing some other activity on a laptop or texting on a phone. Also, 50% to 60% of young customers are doing multiple tasks at once.
"These are astonishing numbers," Owens said.
The target groups that the Echo will serve are young users, ranging from ages 15 or 16 to 35 to 40, combining groups that include the socially connected and technology professionals. "They are on a device all the time and not afraid of technology," Owens said. "Our target audiences are multi-taskers who live and die by the phone and are heavy, heavy users. We wanted to give them a phone that they could bang on all day and night."
The combined younger and older targeted buyers make up 45% to 48% of the entire smartphone market, Owens said.
In anticipation of heavy usage, the device comes with a second battery and a case that can be connected to the phone via a Micro USB cable. The full-sized 1370mAH battery, which costs as much as $50, is included in the $199.99 after-rebate cost. When attached to the phone, it charges the main battery, and both can be re-charged from a wall outlet.
Owens wouldn't say whether a single battery charge will power a single feature-length movie on both screens, and said battery specs have not been released.
Four user scenarios
Sprint describes the uses of the Echo in four ways. The first is single-screen mode, where the phone is similar in size to other 3.5-in. smartphones.
The second is called Simul-Task Mode, with two of the phone's seven core applications running at the same time but independently on the dual displays. That would mean a user could, for example, run a browser on one screen and use e-mail in the other, Owens said, or a user could click through a photo gallery on one and send text messages with the other.