Few would see anything odd about being dissatisfied with a cellphone's low-quality snapshots. Rightly so: digicams are a cornerstone of the consumer electronics business.
The Peek, a simple handset that looks like a cellphone but does nothing but email, makes a similar argument for cheap, on-the-go messaging.
"It's made to be an easy way to do mobile email," said Peek CEO Amol Sarva. "That's the problem it solves."
A co-founder of Virgin Mobile, Sarva said that Peek deals with something more of us use, more of the time, than almost anything else we do with computers: "Everyone does email, so everyone should have something that does email with them."
Geeks can be forgiven if the pitch doesn't impress them. But owners of BlackBerries and iPhones aren't the target market. Amol's aim isn't to replace high-end handsets, but to get a decent email client into the pockets of people who don't want to slap a brick-like smartphone against their temples--or, indeed, those who don't like phones to begin with.
Most small mobiles can't handle email well, if at all. Moreover, not everyone wants to pay a thousand dollars a year or more, locked into a long-term service agreement. The Peek's plan runs less than $20 a month, and involves no contracts or credit checks.
So, the argument goes, there's an potential market for a perfect email-only handheld.
"It's not a smartphone under the hood," said Sarva. "The bill of materials is cut to about a third."
Most devices with similar email capabilities cost several hundred dollars without a contract subsidy. Peek, built on the simplistic Futurephone platform, will cost $100 at Target from September 15. Its limited functionality brought praise and mockery alike from the blogs.
Engadget's Nilay Patel wrote that "we're quite taken" with the Peek, and Laptop Mag's Todd Haselton wrote that "the Kindle is for books, and the Peek is for e-mail." Tech blog Geeksugar wrote that "It immediately appealed to an unconventional, less-is-more side of me."
Gadling's Scott Carmichael wrote "The device feels great, it looks fantasic and they clearly put a lot of thought into the design." But he also lamented the lack of Exchange support.
Others were not impressed. "Prediction: Failure. It's 2008, you might want to join us," wrote a blogger at easternwest.com.
Wired's Tony Long said that it does its job well, but "no matter how efficient it may be, it lacks a lot of stuff that the modern consumer has come to expect from devices of this size and shape."
For some, reviewing the idea of the Peek rather than the thing itself was unavoidable: "Our biggest problem with the Peek is the concept," wrote CNET's Nicole Lee, who gave it a middling review despite it having "one of the best QWERTY keyboards we've ever tried" and "delivering everything it promised."
Is Sarva right in his belief that e-mail can sustain its own device category? Are you considering buying a Peek? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.
Update: Read our review of the Peek.