Gauging the Ocean’s tide

Katie Fehrenbacher nicely packages an optimistic analysis of Helio’s forthcoming Ocean phone at GigaOm after linking to some doom and gloom regarding the MVNO’s prospects. While the AP story in particular details how Helio’s expensive growth is testing EarthLink investor patience, I can’t agree that the Ocean could be an “unlikely saviour.”

Devices aren’t and never have been king in the cellular business (Hear that, AT&T and Apple?). Devices have been closer to the heart of Helio than even other MVNOs, but they are still merely enablers, and it seems as though Helio has done quite well driving SMS volumes even without a QWERTY device. Its marketing formula is still probably only about 30 percent device, 70 percent image.

Helio has courted a high-end consumer but, as Katie notes, competition is stiff for the Ocean with the likes of the imminent iPhone and LG Prada, for which Engadget posted an enticing UI video walkthrough yesterday. As for Exchange integration, I suspect that many who have outgrown the Sidekick or grown weary of its incremental upgrades will take to one of the svelte trio of smartphones (the Q, BlackJack and Dash) running Windows Mobile, particularly as they are now starting to be heavily discounted and primed for Windows Mobile 6 upgrades. They still may not be as pretty on the inside as they are on the outside, but they’re gimmick-free and good enough to sustain inertia.

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