Helio, the mobile phone operator created for tech-savvy hipsters, plans Thursday to announce a new phone for its service that uses satellite location technology to help subscribers stay connected.
The new phone, called the Drift and made by Samsung, is the third phone that Helio has introduced to the market. Helio, backed by Korean carrier SK Telecom and Internet service provider EarthLink, launched the Hero and Kickflip when it introduced the satellite service earlier this year.
What sets the Drift apart from Helio's existing phones is the embedded global positioning system technology, or GPS, that allows Helio to offer new services such as Google Maps and a new location service called the Buddy Beacon.
Instead of calling or text messaging, the Buddy Beacon allows Helio subscribers to switch on the GPS satellite technology to broadcast their location so friends can find them. When the application is turned on, a person's location is shown on a map and their nearest address is displayed for others to see on their buddy list. Members can add up to 25 buddies to their buddy list. When members change locations, they can hit a button to refresh their location. The Buddy Beacon can also be turned off for those times when people don't want to be found.
Helio has also added the Google Maps application to the Drift phone. This application allows users to pull up locations on a Google map. They can also check real-time traffic, get directions, and use an integrated search engine that provides contact details and directions for local listings.
Helio isn't the first service provider to sell a GPS-enabled phone. Japan's DoCoMo is selling several new phones, made by top Japanese manufacturers and equipped with GPS functionality. And Verizon Wireless's Chocolate phone also has GPS that is used with Verizon's VZ Navigator service. And Disney Mobile, another mobile virtual network operator, offers a phone with GPS that allows parents to track their kids.
But CEO Sky Dayton said Helio is adapting the technology and developing new applications that fit the lifestyle of its young, hip customers.
"Buddy Beacon is something none of the major carriers are doing," he said. "But it's very useful. Just think about how kids live today. On Friday night, they are texting where the party is. And with Buddy Beacon, everyone can see where they are."
The Drift is currently available for $225 at Helio's Web site or at 2,500 retail locations nationwide. Buddy Beacon and GPS-enabled Google Maps are free for subscribers who pay for Helio's All-In Membership; data charges apply for a la carte memberships. Helio's other phones, the Hero and Kickflip, cost $275 and $250, respectively.