Ocean A Slick Phone, But Helio Incinerating Cash


Brooklyn native Charlie O’Donnell, former director of consumer products for Oddcast, founder of the NextNY Digital group, and recent Alley returnee, toyed with his new Helio Ocean for a month out west — and he digs it. So do we. Alas, the vital signs of the phone’s maker, Helio, aren’t so promising.

Helio is a “virtual” operator that resells service on Sprint Nextel’s network, including ‘3G’, high-speed wireless Internet access. It was the first operator to offer mobile access to MySpace, and targets a young, free-spending audience willing to pony up $100 a month. Helio designed and built the Ocean from the ground up.

I wrote a brief review of the handset for Forbes.com in May. The dual keypad design is nifty: Slide out a standard number pad for dialling, or a large, QWERTY keypad for texting or browsing. The phone’s software switches the display from portrait to landscape mode depending on which keypad is in use. Its user interface is fast and supports an expansion card for “side-loading” MP3s and movies.

After a month with the Ocean, Charlie’s major beef was the phone’s inability to synch with his Exchange calendar and contacts, as well as its lack of blogging tools. Helio, wrapped up trying to court the MySpace crowd, may have missed out on the fact that Ocean could be a powerful (and fun) business phone, especially for freelancers or entrepreneurs who aren’t tied to corporate BlackBerry servers.

Another potential problem with Ocean is that you could buy one today and find out in a few months that its service provider is kaput. Like Amp’d Mobile, which went bankrupt last month and could shut down tomorrow, Helio is burning cash at an alarming rate, and investors EarthLink and Korean wireless giant SK Telecom will soon have to kick in another $100 million apiece. Last quarter, Helio lost $63 million on $30 million of revenue with fewer than 100,000 subscribers, and it is projected to lose at least $300 million this year.

Helio followers can expect more news Thursday when EarthLink reports Q2 results. New CEO Rolla Huff is obsessively focused on cash-generating ventures, so Helio’s free-spending days may be numbered. But the handset’s a winner.


Charlie, Aunt A, Helio Ocean, and guinea pigs.