Ericsson today launched its second GPRS tri-band mobile phone, the T39, but refused to say how many units would be available upon commercial release in two weeks time. What’s more, it didn't have any commercial units available to test.
With only two weeks until the launch date, the lack of phones is cutting it very fine for Ericsson. According to Colin Ellis, head product manager for consumer gadgets at Ericsson, the T39 in its final form and is still being type tested for European approval.
No prices were announced at the launch, but its extensive feature set means it won’t initially be cheap. The T39 will boast GPRS (general packet radio service) and HSCSD (high-speed circuit-switched data) capability alongside triple-band cleverness for global roaming. There will also be contacts and diary software, proper POP3 email facilities and the latest WAP browser - all in a handset weighing less than 90g.
The T39 represents a change in direction for Ericsson to some extent. Unlike previous Ericsson models the updated handset is slightly rounded. But whether the new phone will be enough of a design shift to shift a significant of units remains to be seen. The beleaguered handset and telecoms firm cocked up last year, shipping products that weren't up to snuff. It hsa spent the last two years making a loss on handsets and has now farmed out production to the Far East.
"It's no secret that we had some quality problems last year," said Ellis, "and I can't allow that to happen again." No, or you get fired.
Ericsson solved its quality problems and its handset loss-making in one fell swoop – by farming out the handset operation to Singapore's Flextronics International.
At the T39 launch in London today Ericsson was also bragging about its recent joint venture deal with Sony. But what it said it brought to the party was as revealing as the firm on the day was obstructive to the media.
Sony brings consumer design and marketing strengths to the joint venture, while Ericsson brings technology and a European fan base. What this is really saying is that Ericsson has woken up to its image as the Volvo of mobile phones - angular and unusual compared to phones by its more successful (and trendier) competitors Nokia and Motorola.
Ericsson bastardised the Microsoft tagline in one presentation to ask 'Where do you want to go tomorrow?'. But, unlike Microsoft's more immediate focus on the here and now, Ericsson's future isn't nearly as certain as it once was. Might we one day see it swallowed up by Sony for a song?
Ericsson might be pinning its hopes on a brighter tomorrow, but will it actually come?