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CTIA 2006

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Helio Samsung Jitterbug UTStarcom  

One of the most unexpected and interesting announcements at the show was Jitterbug, a new MVNO from a little-known company called GreatCall. The target market for Jitterbug is older users, especially holdouts who have resisted getting a cell phone so far.

Actually, while older users are the expected users of this service, the target market may be slightly different. Much the same way Disney Mobile will actually be marketed to parents rather than kids directly, Jitterbug looks like it may be marketed toward adults to buy for their aging parents.

The one thing Jitterbug really has going for it is the phone itself. While other companies have talked about MVNOs or service for older users, GreatCall seems to have actually done a good amount of research into what older users need in a phone, and they've worked with Samsung to create a custom phone just for Jitterbug.

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Jitterbug will actually launch with two phone models, although they are simply variants on the same design. The Samsung A120 is the standard model with a numeric keypad, while the A110 is the super-ultra-simple version with just three large buttons to dial "Operator", "Home", and "911". The Operator key connects to a real human operator. The phone can also be ordered with labels like "Friend" or "Tow" on the middle key instead of "Home", and that key is pre-configured to dial the number of your choice.

The overall design is rather large, but that makes the phone harder to lose, and much easier to manipulate for those whose hands don't quite have the dexterity they used to.

Those with less-than-perfect hearing will appreciate the extra-loud speaker. There's also a rubber cushion surrounding the speaker area. Although it looks kind of odd, it cups around the ear to block our background noise and make it easier to hear the sound. The idea is just like those big, cushioned headphones that DJs use.

The phone is full of thoughtful touches that make it simple and intuitive to use. A large rocker switch on the outside makes it easy to adjust or silence the ringer, so you don't have to open the phone and fiddle with settings. A very clear "on/off" key is provided above the main keypad. This addresses the (surprisingly common) issue of first-time users not knowing how to turn most phones on and off.

The UI is almost as simple as it gets. The default screen is the contacts list. Everything else is only presented when necessary, and the interface only requires the very simple yes/no and up/down keys.

An especially unique feature is the dial tone, which lets first-time cell phone users start using the phone right away with zero learning curve.

Jitterbug won't start commercial sales until the fall, although they plan to run limited trials this summer.

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