Ex-Apple Chief Launches Cheap Obi Android Smartphones

From the former CEO of Apple, John Sculley, comes Obi Worldphone, a company that is promising a fresh and in inexpensive approach to the smartphone market. Obi this week introduced two low-price smartphones aimed at consumers in fast-growth markets in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

The SF1 (pictured: angled at right) and SJ1.5 (pictured: left) offer a custom user interface for Android and incorporate technologies from Qualcomm, Dolby, Sony, Corning Incorporated, Google, MediaTek, Japan Display, and Samsung. The Obi Worldphone was designed by design studio Ammunition, founded in 2007 by Robert Brunner, the former director of Industrial Design at Apple.

“Over the next three years 1 billion users will upgrade from low-end, starter smartphones to models with more power and greater functionality,” said Tim Bajarin, president of market research and analyst firm Creative Strategies. “The Obi Worldphone no-compromise design and aggressive pricing makes it very appealing to this audience as the market for smartphones expands and the upgrade market for smartphones accelerates.”

Looking at John Sculley

While people are talking about the smartphones, just as many are talking about who’s behind Obi Worldphone. Sculley, the company’s co-founder, is the former head of Apple and Pepsi-Cola and an international investor in consumer technology companies.

“Obi has taken the best of Silicon Valley — innovations in design, state-of-the-art technology and high standards for manufacturing — and fused them into beautiful, powerful tools at attractive prices,” Sculley said in a statement. “Our efficient cost structure and broad distribution combine to present empowering tools that help our customers achieve their aspirations.”

Sculley sounds a little bit like the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs with his marketing Relevant Products/Services spin. The difference, of course, is that Obi is targeting the low end of the market whereas Apple has always been aimed at the premium end. Still, Obi is not skipping on elegance or functionality. The devices have strong photography and audio capabilities.

The 4G LTE SF1 has a raised five-inch display made of Corning Gorilla Glass 4. The device has a reinforced fiberglass body and metal accents at the top and bottom. The SF1 also has a quick-charge battery and dual SIM slot with micro secure digital expansion. The price: $199 for the 2 GB RAM with 16 GB internal memory version and $249 for the 3 GB RAM with 32 GB internal memory version.

The SJ1.5 is a 3G smartphone powered by the MediaTek MT6580 Quad-Core processor. The SJ1.5’s screen is made from 2.5D curved glass built flush with the body. The device has dual SIM slots and comes with 16 GB of internal storage Relevant Products/Services and a card slot for memory expansion. The SJ1.5 sports front and rear cameras and is protected by scratch-resistant Corning Gorilla Glass 3. The price is $129.

Does Sculley Matter?

We asked Roger Entner, principal analyst at Recon Analytics, for his thoughts on the new phones. He told us entry-level or lower-cost smartphones are a growing segment — and the ones that are powerful and aesthetically pleasing do even better. He doesn’t see device manufacturers winning brownie points from consumers with ugly phones.

“This is a hot and growing market and I guess Sculley would like to participate in it,” Entner said. “All the attention Obi is getting shows the allure Apple still has. Even if you were the CEO at the beginning of Apple’s decline, it still gives you some kind of a halo. I don’t think it’s that relevant. Just because he’s involved, doesn’t mean it will be successful.”

Obi also announced support from global insurance giant Generali Group, which invested in Obi with a venture capital fund. The Obi Worldphone line will be available starting in October in retail stores in some countries and online in others.


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