Vodafone begins social networking drive

Vodafone begins social networking drive

Vodafone targeted fans of social networking sites today as it launched a range of internet services to compete in a sector dominated by Apple's iPhone.

A new service will allow users on any network to synchronise all their contacts from their mobile phones and internet accounts on Facebook, Windows Live Messenger and Google Talk. Other sites like Twitter will be added later.

Vodafone will also have its own applications store as it takes on the likes of Apple's App Store, while a new handset will look to rival the iPhone.

Meanwhile O2, which has the exclusive distribution rights for the iPhone, has now announced that the new Palm Pre smartphone will be available through its network from October 16.

Vodafone 360 handsets developed with Samsung are to be launched as part of the new service and the firm said its Vodafone People address book means users will amalgamate contacts online as well as on the phone, so they will not lose their numbers if they lose or change their handset.

Pieter Knook, Vodafone's director of internet services, said the new service "enables" the digital lives of customers.

"The beauty of Vodafone 360 is that all the services work together and they are easy to use," he said.

"Customers can stay in touch and share experiences through social networks, instant messaging, email, apps, maps, music and buying digital content on their mobile bill, with the personalised address book at its heart."

Eden Zoller, principle consumer analyst at consultancy Ovum, said the move reflects the fact that the firm needed to "come out with something far more compelling" than their Vodafone Live mobile internet service.

"One thing to note about this is it's not just an application store," she said.

"They are trying to do something with 360 that differentiates them from Apple. It is quite early days but there is quite a lot about the service that we like."

She said the address book service looked useful, but hoped the full 360 service would be available on more handsets.

Jonathan Jackson, head of equities at Killik & Co, said the new smartphones will come loaded with Vodafone 360, but unlike the Apple store would have apps compatible with a number of different handsets.

"These two products should help the group to regain some of the share lost in the UK after it was not selected as distributor of the iPhone in this market," he said.

A catalogue of over 1000 applications available to different handsets, will be available through the Vodafone Shop, giving the company a slice of the lucrative "apps" and services market.

Apple started the trend by offering free and paid for application downloads for its iPhones - meaning they can act as anything from a pedometer to a remote control.

Google has followed suit with a store for phones using its Android systems, while Nokia has its own version known as Ovi.

Vodafone 360 will launch in eight European countries by Christmas.

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