Text by Robin Liss
A startup funded in part by SK Telecom, Helio is targeting the young and upwardly mobile urbanite with fashion phones. The core concept in Helio’s pitch is that cell phones should be fashionable, an idea inspired by popular Korean cell phones. Helio has also attempted to bring over many of the advanced features that tech-savvy users demand. “The design work was very collaborative between LA and Seoul,” says Matias Duarte, VP of Experience Design at Helio. “Our vision and concepts were obviously created and directed from Helio in LA. This way, we’ve maintained a vision that is uniquely suited to Helio’s goals in the U.S., but retains that Korean soul of innovation, which is the reason Helio exists.”
To launch the line, the company is offering two models, the Hero and the Kickflip. Both are sliding-style phones which feature a large LCD screen that slides up to reveal the keypad underneath. The company is marketing the phones as fashion accessories with customizable menus and ringtones. Their intentions are clear: Helio is selling the phones through fashion stores such as HUF, Diavolina and Blue in Green.
Beyond the fashionability, Helio’s biggest appeal for the urban socialite may be its integration with MySpace. Helio has partnered with the the popular social network to give users the ability to connect with friends and post pictures or messages to their MySpace page over their high-speed 3G network.
Helio is a new type of cell phone carrier that effectively “leases” access from a bigger network. Since Helios leases its network from Sprint, a sizeable chunk of the rent is passed onto the consumer at a monthly fee of $85. But with this phone bill comes unlimited data and mobile high-speed Internet.
Helio is definitely a company to watch, but because they don’t own their network, they can only add big features if and when Sprint supports them. As a result, features like portable TV may take a while to come. While Helio phones may one day have all the features that the urban fashionista would look for, at this point, it’s still a waiting game.