It started off as the underdog to WAP, but better design and interoperability with HTML soon saw the i-mode protocol subsume this nasty little service in the Far East. In fact, in Japan today there are now over 44m i-mode customers and it’s simply incredible that six years have passed before an operator thought to bring it to the UK. That operator is O2, and while exact live dates remain a closely guarded secret, we’ve managed to snag exclusive shots of the country’s first compatible handsets.
From Samsung we have the S500i, a tri-band clamshell phone with 262k colour screen and integrated two megapixel digital camera. Video recording, Bluetooth connectivity and stereo speakers are also included on a device that – until now – had left as much concrete evidence of its existence as the Loch Ness Monster.
Interestingly, for a high end device, it will be debut on pay as you go (for £249.99) at the same time it appears on monthly contract. The size and weight of the S500i remain a mystery, but it doesn’t take a genius to recognise it eats a healthy breakfast every morning. We can’t tell you when the S500i will be available as it relies on O2 dropping its dictatorial standpoint, though industry sources suggest that could be “imminent”.
If the S500i is the Loch Ness Monster, the white 343i from NEC is the Yeti, so explorative IT sites across the globe will be cursing when they spot these snaps. As it turns out, the 343i is a trendy budget model with more than a hint of iPod about it, and it certainly would have been a more appropriate design for the first iTunes phone than the disappointing ROKR.
Specs for the 343i remain thin on the ground, but we do know for just £79.99 on a pay as you go contract you will get a tri-band device with 64k colour screen and VGA. Size and weight are again unknowns for this handset, but the nice slim profile suggests it will be extremely pocket friendly. A free month’s i-mode surfing is said to be on offer to purchasers.
So that’s your glimpse through the O2 Iron Curtain. We’ll be keeping our eyes peeled (nasty expression, that) for more over the coming weeks, but I reckon the smart money will be on mid to late October launch.
By the way, if you hear the noise of cloven hooves from O2’s lawyers as they approach our door please tell them we’re not in. ;)