Peek is initially focusing on the U.S. market where there are approximately 264 million cell phone subscribers (according to Frost & Sullivan). But, there are only roughly 15 million in the United States and 32 million internationally that are actively using their cell phone to manage e-mail while on the go. It's safe to say that the remaining wireless subscribers are most likely doing e-mail on their PC or Mac and are simply not managing their e-mail on their phone.
The wireless operators, in partnership with companies such as SEVEN and Visto, have introduced wireless e-mail services for the consumer or small business, along with RIM with their BlackBerry Internet Service offering. These programs do work, and they can help people who are using feature phones or low-end smart phones to manage e-mail. But there are some inherent problems using standard cell phones to process e-mail (instead of making calls as they were primarily designed to do).
One problem with using a feature phone for e-mail is that it's difficult to use a 10-key numeric keypad on many standard phones. Sure, you can "triple type" but it's time-consuming and stressful. Another problem is that most cell phones have a small, portrait-orientation display, and e-mail is best viewed on a horizontal, landscape-orientation display. Finally, it can be very expensive to process e-mails on your phone, depending on the data plan that you have. No one wants to begin doing e-mail on their phone and then get a bill for $200.
I have been a big proponent of someone developing a low-cost solution for consumers that would match what BlackBerry is currently doing for the enterprise and professional worker. The market opportunity is huge and seems ripe for the taking. Apple's iPhone is nice, but it only runs on the AT&T Wireless network. Plus, it is expensive with the cost of the device at a minimum of $199 and upwards of $30 to $50 per month for data. Peek is positioned to "fill the huge market gap" of unmet user requirements. Here's what Peek looks like:
With its introduction, Peek will meet all of the following six objectives:
1. low cost
2. wide, color display with high-contrast fonts
3. an easy-to-use QWERTY keyboard
4. easy-to-set-up access to popular e-mail portals
5. well-designed software that gives a good user experience
6. easy to buy
Peek is located in New York City, and has a development and marketing office in Oakland, Calif. It has a nationwide distribution agreement via Target, and will likely expand through other distribution channels such as Best Buy, Circuit City and discount warehouses such as Costco in the next couple of years. The Peek device costs $100, and the Peek monthly service is $20 per month for an "all-you-can-eat" type of service that runs on the older, less costly, GPRS (General Packet Radio Service).
Peek has some really nice features, including the following 11:
1. Peek is thin.
2. Peek holds a charge for days.
3. Peek has a blinking blue envelope icon on the upper left side of the display to let you know when new e-mail has arrived.
4. There's a handy scroll wheel on the right side to make it easy to scroll through incoming messages, although some left-handed people will find it difficult to use.
5. One surprise: when you turn on the unit, the keys have a backlight and they glow in blue so you can easily see the keys to type (even when in dark rooms or on an airplane).
6. To get started, you just give Peek the user name and password for most popular online e-mail systems such as Yahoo, AOL and Gmail. Peek's servers know how to set up a link to these sites.
7. Like BlackBerry, they have implemented using "T" to go to the top of the Inbox message queue.
8. If you want to open the message without going through a menu, you simply hit "Enter."
9. Peek's screen layout is clean and fonts are sharp. There's high contrast between the characters and the background on the display.
10. To help load up Peek with your contacts, Peek provides a Contact download service from Yahoo, Gmail, AOL and Hotmail. It's not a sync service but it does allow users of popular online e-mail services to quickly load up the device with their Contact information.
11. Peek works using GPRS-remember that? Since they are not downloading HTML (for now), nor are they downloading attachments, GPRS works just fine for the small, character-based e-mails that Peek is managing.
Here are seven things that I think the Peek management will have to address in order to grow into a large, successful company:
1. Integrate the user's Contact and Calendar information. They definitely need to support an automatic, two-way sync with Outlook and popular online services.
2. Develop a main menu that will allow multiple applications to be launched. This implies that they should publish an API for the system and allow developers to add applications (much like Apple has done with the AppStore for the iPhone).
3. Create a high-end unit that integrates GPS and Wi-Fi.
4. Add HTML formatting. One way to do this, and still keep costs low, would be to transfer these e-mails during the night when traffic is low.
5. Add a scroll ball in the center like BlackBerry to support both right and left-handed people.
6. Improve the quality of the glass cover, as the pre-production unit I received had many scratches on it after a few days. (Note: Peek told me they plan to ship with a black case made of recycled PET material made by Timbuk2).
7. In order to become really successful, Peek will need to expand internationally and create a set of APIs so that third parties can build additional applications.
I have been using my pre-production unit for several days now. It works well. I think a lot of people who have a traditional cell phone-but who would like to manage their e-mail while traveling or away from home using a low-cost solution-will find this better than trying to process e-mail with a traditional phone, or paying a higher price for a smart phone and data services.
It has been refreshing to see a new product come to market from a startup that not only works well but looks to have a bright future.
Since joining Frost & Sullivan in 2006, Dr. Purdy has been specializing in mobile and wireless devices, wireless data communications and connection to the infrastructure that powers the data in the wireless handheld. He is author of Inside Mobile & Wireless, which provides industry insights and reaches over 100,000 readers per month.
For more than 16 years, Dr. Purdy has been consulting, speaking, researching, networking, writing and developing state-of-the-art concepts that challenge people's mind-sets, and developing new ways of thinking and forecasting in the mobile computing and wireless data arenas. Often quoted, his ideas and opinions are followed closely by thought leaders in the mobile & wireless industry. He has a Ph.D. in Computer Science from Stanford University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.