The VPhone Unicorn Pops Up, Quickly Disappears

One of the most interesting editorial pieces we’ve ever written was our article, Hunting Down A Unicorn: The VPhone.  For us, we spent considerable time last year working to get current information about the device, only to find none.  In response to our article, certain representatives of Saygus, the company behind VPhone, started inundating us with emails and comments making various claims about our article.

Because it’s now been more than seven months since our article posted, we thought we’d do a little recap on the VPhone.

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Our Article

If you haven’t read our original article, we invite you to do so.  Almost immediately, we started seeing comments from Chad Sayers, founder of Saygus, and others.  Soon after, our Facebook inbox started seeing comments, and our email lit up for a few days.  It seemed we had hit a nerve with our editorial.

The truth is, we don’t know how correct some of our assumptions were.  Keep in mind, we made attempts to contact Saygus, but heard nothing back in time for the article.  We tried our contacts at Verizon, who weren’t allowed to divulge any specific information, but told us we were asking the wrong people as to why the phone wasn’t ready at that time.  We had leads, but no one to confirm many of them.  So, being the long-time wireless know-it-alls that we are, we put a few things together in our own opinions, and put it online.

The response was as if we’d stepped on someone’s grandmother.  According to them, we had it all wrong.  They assumed we had spoken to unhappy investors to write the article, when the fact is that investors started seeking us out a couple days after the article published.  All we were told from them was something akin to “some of your assumptions are correct.”  But as some of these investors used our article as a battle cry for their money, everything got weird.  We were suddenly between the company and it’s investors, when we hadn’t spoken with either until after we wrote the article.

And the overreaction on the part of Chad Sayers and Saygus make us thing there really was something to our opinion article.  If we’d been way off the mark, why would they have bothered to react as strongly as they did?  They could have just laughed us off, but instead they took it very personally.  At some point we were accused of trying to taint any future investors from looking into the company - as if we care that much.

The truth is, and we’ve always maintained this, that we wanted the VPhone to succeed.  We were rooting for the device as part of our organization’s core philosophy against contract subsidies.  We’re pro-consumer choice.  The VPhone represents what we want for the industry.  Our issue was that it just wasn’t happening.

What’s Happened in Seven Months?

Until yesterday, nothing new had come out.  We check their site from time to time, and while some things may be freshened up now and again, no new information has come to their page.

And then, in the last couple days, we noticed a few articles around the web about the VPhone finally being approved by Verizon Wireless.  Engadget and PCMag both report that the phone has finally been approved.  We know from our investigation that the final delays back at the beginning of the year were due to packaging requirements (the phone was practically ready to go, but the box wasn’t), so apparently that’s been resolved.  I would imagine that since they’ve updated a little of the hardware since the first prototypes, they had to do some additional testing as well.  The information about the approval came from Verizon Wireless’ Brenda Raney, and as the PCMag article states, the phone can now be seen on Verizon Wireless’ website.

So What’s Changed?

To be completely honest, not much.  The PCMag article states that the processor has been increased to 806 MHz, which was the same data we had reported on in January.  The software has apparently been upgraded from Android 2.1 to 2.2, with the possibility of 2.3 in the future.

And this is the problem.

When the VPhone was announced, it was around the same time that Verizon announced the original DROID.  For those who don’t know, that’s 2009.  In fact, we’re only a couple months away from the two-year anniversary of the DROID, as well as the VPhone’s announcement.

A lot changes in two years.  The phone was going to have new features unheard of on phones in 2009: video calling, USB functionality, hotspot, and a slew of cutting-edge specs.  Now, those features and specs are old news.  Most every feature that the VPhone was to bring to the market has been around for eighteen months.  Seven months ago, we stated that the phone would seem old if it ever hit the market, and it’s even more true today.  Assuming the phone finally goes up for sale through Saygus, it will probably be almost two years, and few people beyond the non-subsidy niche market will want to bother with it.  It will come out a brand-new relic.

I’m glad that Saygus has been able to move things along.  I still wonder what’s been going on for almost two years.  I believe, from my conversations and all the comments I’ve received, that the approval would have been done a long time ago.  I’m confident that Saygus would tell me I’m wrong.  My opinion is an educated one, but they’ve done a masterful job of keeping their information private.  Any information coming from them is a positive spin, ignoring the blaring fact that not releasing the phone sooner is an embarrasment to their company.  And I’m sure by stating what I believe, I’ll find new angry emails in my inbox.

To Catch A Unicorn

Everything seems to be in a quiet holding pattern.  Given the last two years, we’re not very confident that VPhone will come out of hiding.  At least not until people forget enough to warrant a new reminder.

We still have a shred of hope that something comes of all this.  We really wish that the VPhone had played out, especially about a year ago.  We fear that far too many people have simply moved on.  The VPhone would have initially competed against two or three Androids in Verizon’s lineup.  Now, they fight a dozen models, including the new Windows Phone 7, and the big dog of the market, iPhone.  They had a much better chance two years ago.  Regardless of the reasons why they didn’t come out with the phone in the last two years, the fact remains that they’ll have a hard time selling it in today’s market.  And that’s a shame.  We really do want to see manufacturers selling their products directly, and at reasonably prices.  The VPhone could have been it.  It could have bolstered the Nexus and opened the door for more players.

Instead, it only kept the door closed.