Peek Email Theory

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 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.

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29 Responses to Peek Email Theory

  1. icky2000 says:

    The absence of Exchange support implies that the device does not use Microsoft’s ActiveSync technology that is built in to Windows Mobile and some other smart phones. Exchange, like any other mail system, is accessible by POP or IMAP and you could use either of those protocols to connect to your Exchange mailbox using this device (assuming your Exchange admin opens those protocols to the internet).

    Given that, accessing Exchange from this device would be exactly like accessing any other mailbox with it…so I’ve no idea why Gadling was concerned about lack of Exchange support.

    Of course I’ve never seen the device so maybe I’m just missing something…

  2. awood says:

    I think this is a great idea, I’ve often thought something like this would be really great.
    Although I always envisioned access would be free, piggy backing from free wi-fi to free wi-fi.
    I could see this working better as a pay as you go (prepaid) type deal as only those with a business need would pay $20 a month to use email.
    I think this device is far less intrusive than a cell phone and lets the user take their time writing messages rather than abbreviating text to fit into an SMS

  3. Peaceflag2007 says:

    Love it!

    Simple elegant, not too many features to confuse everything.

  4. byronba says:


    To your list I’ll add:

    US Cellular:
    Metro PCS:

    Where phonenumber is your 10 digit phone number.

    Found this list on:

  5. gabrielm says:

    Phoneless devices to compose email have been around for a while. One that I am familiar with is called pocket mail. To send/receive, you have to hold it up to a phone so it can use audio to send the data like an old school modem.

    They are really useful for long distance hikers who are out of cell range for long period, but want to pick up email when near a town.

  6. brownbat says:

    I don’t think “simple phone” people are “two pocket devices” people, no matter how simple the second device is.

    I say this as a “one simple device” person.

    I’m sold on this the moment I can communicate exclusively via email and just completely drop my phone. I welcome a world where we primarily send messages at a couple kilobytes of text instead of a couple megabytes of voice. But that world is a ways off from this one.

    Who knows, maybe I’m in the minority of my minority. Maybe all my simple phone brethren will gobble this up. Glad someone’s trying to sell this sort of thing, so we can find out.

  7. Ryan Waddell says:

    Before Blackberries were also phones, weren’t they just mobile messaging devices? Seems like this is hardly revolutionary.

  8. Rob Beschizza says:

    Brownbat, you say you’re sold on it the moment you can communicate exclusively via email, which is exactly what it does. And then you say the world is a way off from it, even though it exists.


  9. HansHansen says:

    Well, I guess their main problem is not so much the technology. The product seams to be good and all.

    I am rather curious to see if they’ll find a way to sell their product. In the US independent cell phone distribution is still a huge problem. Their target audience is probably not reading tech blogs or the laptop magazine. They’ll need to get it into Target, Sears, KMART, … for all the soccer moms to find.

  10. squalor says:

    To the ‘simple phone people’, you can send an email to SMS inboxes with various domains.
    Verizon is, T-Mobile is I don’t know all of them, because most of my friends are on Verizon.

    But I will most certainly be purchasing the Peek.

  11. Tubman says:

    @#21, Rob: I think Brownbat’s point is that while this product enables communication exclusively via email, it’s not necessarily viable if most of the people who want to get in touch with you on a voice line aren’t prepared to switch to email too.

  12. codeman38 says:

    Honestly, if this thing supported IM as well as e-mail, I could see it taking off hugely amongst the deaf community.

  13. Rob Beschizza says:

    Who doesn’t have email?

  14. dpcosta says:

    The Peek is without a doubt a beautiful piece of kit. My only problem with it is that I tend to try and minimize the amount of gadgets I carry around, which results in me buying devices that incorporate more than one function (such as the HTC Touch Diamond in my pocket).
    Having said that, if it were possible to read ebooks (I suppose I could mail them to myself) and do some kind of rudimentary browsing on the Peek, I would order one straight away.
    The design guy in me really wants one, but the gadget guy has the wallet.

  15. SamF says:

    “What would you think if a company took a cellphone, then removed all but one peripheral feature which had nothing to do with making phone calls, and made that the focus of the device? Absurd?
    And yet digital cameras are a massive business: few see anything unusual about being dissatisfied with a cellphone’s low-quality snapshots.”

    Am I the only one who’s confused by this intro? I get the device that’s being pitched. It’s like a blackberry that only does email. But why compare it to a cell phone that has had everything but the camera removed, and compare that to digital cameras? A digital camera isn’t really anything like a cell phone with everything but the camera removed.

    Sorry, maybe I’m just having a confused day.

  16. Tubman says:

    @SAMF: The digital camera analogy doesn’t quite work because this device isn’t just for email composition: it sends them too. A better analogy would be, say, a 3G-enabled digital camera which can upload pics directly.

  17. Rob Beschizza says:

    “A digital camera isn’t really anything like a cell phone with everything but the camera removed.”

    That’s the point. People are assuming that the Peek is like a cellphone with everything but the email removed. The email experience it provides, however, is much better than than on most cellphones — just as a digital camera offers much better photography than cellphones.

    But I’ll rewrite the intro to be less confusing. Cheers!

  18. semiotix says:

    Strictly speaking, the PEEK should only read e-mails, while a separate device, the POKE, should only be able to write them. All that other phone stuff would be handled by the appropriately named CALL device.

    Look, you want to borrow against Applesoft Basic nostalgia, you have to play ball. I’d buy a PEEK: I just want the fun of reading e-mail, not the hassle of responding.

  19. Mike says:

    I’m actually strongly considering this. I’m a bit of a Luddite when it comes to cell phones. I’ve always thought cell plans were far too expensive and predatory. The whole concept of “peak minutes” reminds me of the ancient days of the internet when you paid by the minute and thus were constantly checking your watch instead of enjoying the experience. The only cell phone we have is one that the in-laws are paying for as part of a family plan.

    For years I’ve been craving a device that just does something like IM or SMS and can be paired with a cheap unlimited service. I think I’m precisely the kind of consumer for which this device is designed. Email is a little cumbersome for mobile, rapid communication. On the other hand, it does give me a little more freedom to roam from my desk. Color me interested!

  20. JamesMason says:

    Yeah – I’m in the “Like it” category too. I use Tracfone for my cell – because I use a cell for my convenience only – I use maybe 20 minutes a month telling my wife I’m going to be late, short information, etc. I don’t use it for anything else.

    If this works like a Tracfone – I buy the machine and then don’t pay much for the service, like on a per use basis, I would do it.

  21. Skwid says:

    I’ve given serious thought into getting one for my mother for Christmas. She doesn’t have a reliable way to do e-mail, right now, and this would give her one.

  22. jonno says:

    I have to say I’m interested in one of these. I do about 90% of my corporate job via email but I don’t need or want all the smartphone features or to always have to carry a big phone with me. The Peek appeals in that I can leave it at home if I want off the grid and take my little personal flip phone instead. And it’s cheap, no contract, no overages, nothing like that.

    It’s doubly appealing because I heard about it at the end of a day of cancelled-flight stuck-in-airport without-wifi hell, while my two major accounts filled up my inbox with urgent issues. It would’ve been just the thing to have at that moment in time.

    This lack of exchange support is a problem, though. I don’t know all the details, but corporate email == exchange server, so…

  23. mralistair says:

    I have to say i like the idea of this, i need a small phone for my daily life. my boss would like me to get emails everywhere. this living in my work bag (and left there at night!) would seem a good way of companies getting the on-the go connectivity they want without paying for all their workers calls to loved ones and pizza joints.. and loved pizza joints

  24. Ryan Waddell says:

    Rob – MOST people don’t have email on the go, which is what I think Brownbat’s utopian future is all about. ie no voice, all email, from anywhere at any time.

    Brownbat also makes a good point though – how many people who don’t want a big bulky multi-purpose cell phone, are going to want to carry around a big bulky single-purpose email device? Most of the people I know who scorn smartphones and the like, scorn them due to the pocket real estate that they don’t want to give up (and likewise they refuse to nerd it up with a belt clip).

  25. Rob Beschizza says:

    Good God, Semiotix. I haven’t POKED since the last time I needed infinite lives in Jet Set Willy.

  26. kukkurovaca says:

    I really, really despise phones, and in particular talking on them. I’ve actually wanted a device of exactly this kind for years now… : )

    Yes, it would be nice if it were a full internet tablet, but I don’t want to spend a gazilliion dollars or tie a contract around my neck, so I went ahead and ordered one. Should arrive today or tomorrow…

  27. kukkurovaca says:

    Oh, BTW, the link to easternwest is malformed.

  28. steamedpenguin says:

    If I could read email on my bus ride to and from work and school I would be pretty happy.

    Here is the problem with smartphones: I can’t afford to pay 500 USD for a brick that emails, phones, keeps appointments and browses with varying degrees of bad and suck. More importantly, even if I could afford to pay I prefer to have a small phone and not something big enough to look like I planted a metal shingle in my face.

    If the service is good and the quality high and I can use any SMTP and IMAP or POP server I want I would buy it.

  29. Rob Beschizza says:

    “how many people who don’t want a big bulky multi-purpose cell phone, are going to want to carry around a big bulky single-purpose email device?”

    That’s a good point. However, you don’t have to slap the peek against your sweaty head to use it. Smartphones carry a certain weight of meaning (of the kind that people like us are likely to miss), that hasn’t entirely slipped away. Especially BlackBerries.

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