Sprint to sell dual-screen Kyocera phone

Sprint Nextel Corp (AGENCY)

Sprint Nextel Corp (S.N) plans to sell a Kyocera Corp phone with two screens and Google Inc's software, in an effort stand out in a crowded U.S. smartphone field where Apple Inc gets much of the consumer attention.

Japan's Kyocera and Sprint Nextel, the No. 3 US mobile provider, both said the device would likely be followed by other two-screen models as they look to cater to consumers who want to use two different applications at once.

The phone, which was unveiled at a New York event on Monday evening, will go on sale this Spring for $199.99 to consumers who sign a 2-year contract with Sprint, the companies said.

The event, which was kicked off by a performance from magician David Blaine, came days before Verizon Wireless starts sales of Apple's iPhone, which is seen drawing huge interest as it ends AT&T Inc's (T.N) three-year US rights to the phone.

The Kyocera phone, to be called the Echo, is expected to mark a big step up from Kyocera's most recent U.S. offerings, which have typically more basic devices.

Along with Google's increasingly popular Android software, Echo will feature two 3.5-inch screens that are hinged together and can be used in tandem for doing different things such as surfing the Web and watching videos at the same time.

WIMAX DUAL SCREEN?

The phone can double the screen size available for using a single application such as email. For example, one screen could show the email inbox while the second screen shows the email text. Each can also run separate applications.

"I actually think it's going to be a huge market," Fared Adib, Sprint vice president for product development told Reuters on the sidelines of the event. "You're going to start to see these things become more prevalent."

Adib said the Echo was designed for the estimated 70 percent of people who tend to use two forms of entertainment at once, like surfing the web while also watching television.

One drawback from having such a big display, however, is a bigger than usual drain on the phone's battery. But to counter this Sprint is throwing in a spare battery, worth about $50, with the phone itself so that the spare can be attached to the device when power is running low.

With the spare battery, Adib estimated that the phone would last as long as typical smartphones, which tend to need to be recharged after a day or more.

Another drawback is that the phone runs on Sprint's slower CDMA network rather than its high-speed wireless service, which uses Clearwire's (CLWR.O) WiMax network. But Adib said the company would look at dual-screen WiMax phones.

"I wouldn't count out one for WiMax," he said.

Executives from Kyocera also indicated that Echo would not be a one-off device. Atsushi Kodera, a global sales executive for Kyocera, said the company has at least one more dual-screen phone in the pipeline besides Echo, which he described as "a new family, a new era."

Since WiMax is also being deployed in Japan, Kodera said Kyocera is investigating if it will bring out a phone based on that technology along with CDMA and LTE, a rival high-speed technology for which it plans to launch a phone this year.

CCS Insight analyst John Jackson said that, since many phones have taken on a shape similar to the iPhone, phone makers are looking for ways to distinguish themselves.

The next "new thing" for this year may be dual-screen devices, Jackson said.

Another avenue they have pursued is tablet computers, a market where Samsung Electronics Co Ltd (005930.KS) and Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc (MMI.N) have been following Apple's iPad lead.

"Most vendors are working on dual screen phones. It's similar to the tablet in that it's a speculative market, but it makes sense to experiment," Jackson said.

While the Echo raised fewer cheers than Blaine's under-water magic tricks, analysts said it could be popular among consumers who do not need high-speed data services.

"It should sell quite well for people in their late teens and mid twenties," said wireless industry analyst Roger Entner from Recon Analytics. "The downside is that you're not getting the very fastest network available."

Shares in Sprint, which reports earnings later this week, closed at $4.40 on the New York Stock Exchange on Monday, unchanged from their Friday finish.

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