LAS VEGAS—Coolpad Americas is metamorphosing. Formerly a low-cost, China-based phone maker, the company has reinvented itself with a new staff and a US headquarters, and it’s trying to focus on offering families with kids ways to stay connected.
The first product in the new lineup is the Dyno, a kids’ tracker/smartwatch that we saw last year at Mobile World Congress Americas. But I’m more excited for where Coolpad might be going in the future—filling in the gap for parents who want 4G voice phones for their kids.
Right now, except on Verizon, it’s very hard for parents to find high-quality flip or bar phones that run on carriers’ 4G networks for kids who aren’t ready for smartphones.
“We’ve heard the exact same thing,” Ryan said. “We have plans to bring in products that address that specific market with a device that’s appropriate.”
One of Coolpad’s new hires hints at that direction: its new R&D head is Steve Cistulli, a former head of Alcatel in the US who helped nurture KaiOS, the advanced feature-phone OS that runs on India’s spectacularly successful Jio Phone. Coolpad is “actively talking to our friends at KaiOS,” Ryan said.
Coming Out of China
“Coolpad 2.0” doesn’t just seem to be happening because the company was struggling in the shallow end of the low-cost phone market. I’m pretty sure it also saw the writing on the wall about Chinese phone-makers in the US, and wants to survive by separating as much as possible from its Chinese parent.
“We will become a standalone entity with the new team that we’re building. Today we are a US company, we are not a Chinese company,” Ryan said. Coolpad Americas still has R&D and manufacturing in China, but is moving some R&D into the US, he said. The company does not use any Chinese cloud services, and is building out security and validation labs in the states.
“We certainly feel like with the new team we have built, which is made up of industry veterans in the US, there is a sense of trust and a level of comfort as we look and feel very different [than we used to,]” he said.
That sense of trust was one reason the company has held back the Dyno, its Qualcomm-powered smartwatch with restricted tracking, texting, and calling for smaller kids. Coolpad product chief John Choi said the company wanted to get its own data service on board the watch and ensure security.
“Consumers are very aware now about their devices and what data is collected,” he said. “We’re COPPA-compliant and all servers are located in the US.”
The Dyno will cost $ 149, with unlimited calls, texting and location services at $ 9.99/month. It will be sold directly through Coolpad, Ryan said.