Not Just a Phone

It’s a tough world out there for the mobile phone retailer. Not only are they competing with each other, they’re trying to sell the same contracts and the same handsets as the networks, 
as the web-only mail order specialists, and the bloke down the pub with a sackful of dodgy SIM-frees. “Sell added value” is the usual mantra, which often translates as not much more than a second battery or an insurance policy.

But as a retailer, you know phones and you know phone users. What’s more, you know that they have lives beyond their mobiles. So while the basic mobile phone is a good starting point for establishing your credibility, let’s find ways to talk to them in a language they understand about the other things they need and want.

We’ve been looking around for extra products and services that could fit into your business without compromising your specialisation and without alienating your customers. These are all things that look good and work well, they’re products that might appeal to the kind of person who’s thinking about changing a phone or switching networks, and they could all fit sensibly into your business.
 
We noted the arrival of the Bluetooth watch last month, with Sony Ericsson and Avenir Telecom both introducing products. We haven’t seen Avenir’s offering, but we have been toying with the Sony Ericsson MBW-100.

Actually, ‘toying’ is too feckless a word: it’s a real stainless steel watch with a scratch-resistant mineral crystal glass and anti-glare coating … with call and music controls for a Bluetooth-linked phone. Below the face there’s a small display (three lines) that gives you number or name of an incoming caller, or a message icon if you’ve received a text. There’s a button to mute the ringtone or reject a call. Another button controls music playing on the phone – stop, start, skip (though you don’t get any track info on the display).

There’s an unexpected and potentially useful extra – you can set an out-of-range notification, which vibrates the watch if it gets too far from the phone. As would happen for instance if someone has nicked your mobile.

Ok, it’s one for the blokes – it weighs a chunky 188g, after all – and it’s not cheap at around £200 end-user. But for a particular type of buyer, it’s a very cool bit of technology.
 
• Sony Ericsson via distributors
Avenir Telecom (right)
 
Remote cameras that use GPRS and their own SIM cards to send images and/or text warnings to a mobile phone are starting to come on to the market, and they are well worth checking out.

Essentially the systems use a small camera that can be positioned anywhere around the home or office, in the garage or even in a car or boat. The system can also include infrared and motion sensors to detect intruders, but in any case will always be looking for movement. A SIM card is built into the system; a recording of the event that sets off the camera is automatically sent to a control centre, and users can also view a live feed from the camera by pressing assigned keys on their handset.

The service doesn’t normally require any change of operator. The tariff structure is typically based on numbers of pictures viewed rather than megabytes transferred, making it simple for mobile users to understand. Could be very useful.

Here are two options:
3rdi: www.3rdisecure.tv/domestic-contact.htm
• Fonetechnology IRIS: www.iris.tv
 
This is one of those things that wins awards at consumer electronics shows, and indeed it has done just that.

It’s the V-Mate, from specialist memory supplier SanDisk, and it’s simply a video recorder that takes a signal from a TV, cable or satellite set-top box, or a DVD or VCR unit. It records on to flash memory cards so the video can be played back on a mobile device like a phone, PDA, or a handheld game console.

The V-Mate lets users record up to 3.5 hours of high quality video per gigabyte and supports most of the common memory card formats – including mini and microSD, and Memory Stick PRO and Duo. The end-user price should be below £75, which translates into not very many videos …

SanDisk knows what it’s doing here: it is the original inventor of flash memory cards and is the world’s largest supplier of flash data storage card products, with a raft of patented technology to draw on.

• SanDisk via distributors. Try Hama (www.hama.co.uk) or Peak (www.peak-uk.com)

Yes, Bluetooth headsets are ten a penny these days, and some are really advanced technically. But here’s one we like, simply because it’s so stylish. Lots of colours available, but this version in sexy pink could be the one that allows girls to be seen with a headset … Up to 7 hours talk time, 150 hours standby. End user price around £22. Try Elite Mobile for supplies.
 
Elite Mobile
 
Mobchargers are the kind of portable power packs that every corner store should sell – and they would make great low-cost incentives for the retailer.

Basically a Mobcharger is a mini zinc-carbon battery the size of a thick credit card which will provide up to 60 minutes talk time and 480 minutes standby: Mobchargers last for five years, won’t leak or corrode, and are disposable with the normal household rubbish.

Mobchargers come with individual connectors built in, so there are varieties for the four major makes – Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Motorola and Samsung – plus a really useful mini USB plug for the many phones (especially smartphones and PDAs) that take that standard connector.

They’re selling at around a fiver, but there’ll be a lot of margin in that.

Mobcharger www.mobcharger.com
 
Skype is good. Mobiles are good. Broadband is good. And the VoSKY Call Center may well be the gismo that brings all the goodness together.

It’s a neat little box (115x85x25mm) that enables Skype subscribers to use a mobile and/or a landline to make and receive Skype calls. So you can place Skype calls (free) and SkypeOut calls (small charge) from any phone: receive Skype or SkypeIn calls on any phone: and get notified on any phone when Skype contacts come online.

On top of that, you can share a Skype line and a landline on the same handset. There’s a built-in answering machine (with dial-in remote access, naturally) and incoming Skype calls can be forwarded to whatever number you specify – handy if you’re away from base or just somewhere without Skype access. You can also dial in and follow the audio prompts to make and receive Skype, SkypeIn and SkypeOut calls from another location.

Setting it up is a doddle – one connection to your broadband network, optional connections to a fixed handset and landline, run the CD, follow the instructions. And then it works, as if by magic.

Brilliant, cheap (around £50 RRP) and a really impressive demo to show a small business or a self-employed person.
 
VoSKY www.vosky.com