Sprint’s Echo Reminds Me of Kyocera’s Difference to the Norm

Kyocera 7135 Palm OS SmartphoneRight around the time people were starting to get tired of Palm Pilots, the idea of adding a cellular antenna within them came into vogue. While there was the Handspring Visor with its Springboard module that got some people’s attention, what I really wanted at the time was either the Samsung i550 or Kyocera 7135. These were different than other phones at the time (they had a PDA in them), and they were also different from PDAs (they had a phone in them). Different, and not from the leaders for those platforms.

The other day, Kyocera pulled that off again. And I hope that this echoes into the mobile world just like they did before – albeit with more success this time around.

Kyocera released a new Google Android-powered smartphone called the Echo which has a unique feature – it has two 3.5in touchscreens. When I saw it (I had a busy day, so no time to do early research on this), I immediately thought of the cancelled Microsoft Courier tablet and Nokia Achieving Together video (that I also posted about the other day). Not just because of the screens either, but because it is at least something different in this seemingly endless “faster, shiner, thinner” meme that’s been all about mobile lately.

I’ll let other sites (Engadget, Mobile Crunch) give you a handle on the technical details – I’m more interested with how dual screens allow you to go mobile differently. Two examples that I can think of that apply here: the Nintendo DS and Kristian Ulrich Larsen’s Flip Phone Concept.

The dual-screen DS made too much sense to me when Nintendo came out with it, and it pretty much cemented the DS as the preferred distraction tool for parents and gaming kids. Add to things that Nintendo didn’t just make the second screen a display-only screen – you could and developers were encouraged to make sure you would interact with it, in a sense bridging some of the gaps that physical buttons just could not do.

The Flip Phone Concept is a concept only (oh for dreams to be real), but here it also shows this idea of a device that transforms as being something that better lives with your environment. In a sense, instead of your mobile needing a space in a specific case or pocket, its ability to fold and bend allows you to mold it to the best case needs. And in that case, you had three screens that could become engaged interfaces or displays for any kind of work.

I look at the Kyocera Echo and am brought back to those PalmOS (Classic) phones from back in the day. I am brought to the reality of kids playing and getting lost in an immersive environment, and the mobile being shifted to become more a part of your environment. I see that and say, “yes! Someone is taking a chance and gets it.

Kyocera doesn’t make mobiles like they used to. I think that in some respects that they were burned in the US by how the PalmOS panned out. And truthfully, the Treo was an extremely well done project – it would have took a lot more than what Kyocera/Samsung/Sony threw at their PalmOS projects for it to keep more than just a passing fan-attraction.

But, I like this. I like that this is something that will be duplicated by feature phones that will cost $29.99 on a 2yr contract within a year. I like that this is going to force some Android developers to think differently and possibly actually make them come up with creative software (copy the Courier, that’s an easy sell to folks). I don’t like that this mobile will get blasted by mobile tech websites that either won’t or can’t understand because its not what they are used to (eh). And I get that this device might just be not good enough for anyone – and at the same time find itself a following just like the 6035/7135 did.

If this were from the usual suspects (HTC, Motorola, or even Apple), there’d be all kinds of fawning over the Echo in terms of it being a revolution. This comes from a company that folks haven’t heard from in a long while. And it looks just like the kind of different they pulled off the last time they got the light. I’m kind of glad to see this – hopefully, different pans out better for Kyocera this time around.

Side Note: If this ran HP/Palm’s WebOS and was available in a GSM version, I’d be sold on it hands down, spare battery and all.