CyCell has launched a mobile phone the size of a credit card which can only be used to call a preselected group of contacts. You can customise your phone, choosing some basic features via the OwnFone website.

A Niche for a Basic No-Frills Phone?

At a time when the smartphone and applications markets are burgeoning, it seems that companies would also do well not to ignore another consumer need: simplicity. Following the move by French company BIC to launch a phone offering just the essential functionality (i.e. sending and receiving calls and text messages) in August 2008, UK-based CyCell Limited has decided to take a similar path. It has started selling the OwnFone, a mini-cellphone the size of a credit card, weighing only 40 grams. This model is even simpler than the BiC phone, since you can’t even write text messages, let alone access the Internet, download applications, listen to music, take photos or use a GPS.

A very personal device

The slogan tells us: “OwnFone connects you directly to the most important people in your life - that's it!” The other big difference, which responds to a major requirement, is that the phone is entirely customised. When you put in your order, you have to specify the colour and the style, and then the number of name buttons you require, from two to twelve, for the core group of people you might want to contact fast, plus an emergency number. When you press the relevant button, the device automatically dials the number of the named person. In addition to providing a device which meets the needs of customers for fast contact, CyCell also hopes to reduce the likelihood of theft, as it is likely to be of little use to third parties.

No-frills telephone

OwnFone is a very simple device, but isn’t it a bit too basic? If the person you wish to contact doesn’t pick up on his/her mobile phone, you can’t try another channel, since the mini-phone has no keyboard. Moreover, some commonplace functionality such as an alarm clock, a diary and reminder service – which can be very useful – is available even on the most basic standard phones. The OwnFone however has no menu, so making and receiving calls is the only functionality available. The device is aimed mainly at older people and children. The price tag is £55 (€70), which is fairly steep, especially for a phone designed to be used in an emergency. On a practical note, the battery lasts three days if the phone stays on continuously, a year if you put it into shutdown mode.