ATLANTA—At the CTIA Wireless trade show here this week, its all about the phones. Both the usual suspects and unusual newcomers rolled out new models for the world to see.
As I looked over all of the handsets coming out, a few trends emerged. First, a move toward clamshell designs echoes users demand for them. Both Siemens AG and Nokia Corp. proudly rolled out their first clamshell units. Why clamshell? Because as phones get smaller and lighter, a fold-out unit is easier to hold and more closely matches where our ears and mouths are on our heads.
Were also moving beyond simple, small photo phones. I saw a number of phones with more than CIF- or VGA-size CCDs, with some well over a megapixel. But more than still images, video will begin to take center stage later this year.
More smartphones, beefy devices that combine PDA with phone, made their debuts, running on Symbian, Palm and Microsofts SmartPhone for Windows OS. My nod for creativity and volume, though, goes to Symbian for its phones. I didnt see a single new Microsoft-based phone and spotted only one new Palm device.
The sweet spot of the market, though, appears to be intelligent phones, running J2ME or Brew, that are capable of downloading small games and other applications. I had dinner with Trip Hawkins, CEO of new mobile content company Digital Chocolate, and he gave me an interesting perspective on the market. Within two or three years, he predicted, there will be two billion application-ready phones in the world. These devices wont be smart phones but will be able to download and run applications. Thats a pretty amazing market.
What follow are some of the more interesting phones, along with commentary on how they really work.
Siemens Shows Off Prototypes
I expected to see a lot of cool prototypes at CTIA, but alas, only German company Siemens opted to bring an engineer and stuff from the labs. What they showed, though, was pretty cool.
Yes, its a phone in the shape of a pen. Actually, it really is a pen. Inside this prototype is a laser that tracks movement and a handwriting recognition engine. Want to call home? Write the number on a piece of paper using the pen, or presumably just spell out home. It really worked—sort of—in the demo. The phone recognized numbers as written, at least some of the time. You talk on the phone by holding it to your head vertically, but itll also include Bluetooth, so you can use a separate headset. Definitely cool. But way out there.
This prototype shows how a virtual keyboard can be added to a phone. On the upper part of the unit, a red light beams a virtual keyboard onto a table. At the bottom of the phone, a laser sweeps along the surface, looking for a finger to break the plane. With the built-in camera and laser and with the proper calibration, its pretty easy to type in words and commands. Dont expect to touch-type, though—its hunt and peck only. No estimated ship date, but its pretty cool.
In addition to prototypes, Siemens showed off some neat, new handsets as well, due out later this year.
I was particularly fond of the SX1, which you can purchase now on the Web for $499. This smartphone, along with all of Siemens phones, only runs on the GSM network. It does e-mail, browses the Web and connects to your PC to swap addresses and phone numbers. Based on the Symbian operating system, its nice and small.
This hip, little phone, the CF62, is Siemens first flip phone. Its got a cool feature for alerting you when a call comes in: A series of white lights running around the outside of the unit blink when someones calling. Users can program their own blinking sequences to indicate certain calls or just for fun.
The CF62 also has a unique antenna design. Instead of protruding straight up, it wraps around the top, like a handle. The phone is due out in the third quarter. Its an attractive, small phone. No camera, but its sure to be a hip attention-grabber when it ships.
The CX66, on the other hand, includes both still and video imaging. Its also small but includes 11 megabytes of shared memory and a VGA camera. It supports MMS and a Java-based, 3D gaming engine that looked pretty cool. I saw it actually rotate tiny vehicles in 3D.
It also will be available in the third quarter of 2004. Although Siemens would not release pricing information, expect both of these phones to fall in the middle of the market – between $200 and $300. As GSM phones, they will likely be available for T-Mobile, Cingular or AT&T Wireless.
Samsung Delivers Small and
Palm users, rejoice! Theres a neat, new Samsung Palm device on the way.
The new i505, due out in the third quarter, runs on the GSM network. Its thinner and lighter than Samsungs previous smartphones or, as the company calls them, Mobile Intelligent Terminals (MITs). The device includes a nifty pivoting screen—Samsungs first—that lets you use the i505 as a standard clamshell phone or as a flat Palm. The screen twists like a Tablet PC and lets the Palm screen lie flat on top of the phone keyboard. The unit runs version 5.2 of the Palm OS and includes a camera and a media player. Although a carrier hasnt been announced, the word “T-Mobile” was emblazoned across the top of the units home screen.
Samsung is also experimenting with different enclosures. The bottom of the D415 slides down to increase the length of the phone when making a call. Its a neat design, and it feels solid.
The d415 should be available in the next month or two and includes 64-ton polyphonic ringers—whatever that means. A GSM phone as well, it includes a still and video camera with a 262k color screen.
But if you really want to do video with your phone, consider Samsungs new a690. Also available in the second quarter, Samsung claims that its the lightest phone with built-in video and photo imaging. It has color displays both on top and inside and allows for video and photo e-mail.
But the coolest part of the phone is on the back. When youre taking a video, a super-bright, white LED comes on, illuminating the subject of your video—assuming they arent all the way across the room. LEDs are perfect for this type of application, as theyre bright, rarely burn out and use little battery. This could be the video phone to beat in the market later this year.
Sony Ericsson Disappoints from
Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications AB presented one of the most disappointing booths at CTIA from a new product perspective. Although it offered a few, mostly noninteresting handsets, the only really captivating device was the $800 P900.
The phone boasts a nice, big screen, but Im a little concerned about the fragility of the unit. I dropped one over the weekend, and the front cover broke off—turning $800 into zero in seconds.
For some reason, most of the booth was taken over with fun, games and—for reasons I cannot fathom—AIBO. Perhaps Sonys robotic dog will be getting his own cell phone soon?
Also, inexplicably, a DJ was spinning soft music. Why, I cannot say. It added little to the sense of excitement.
The company was showing off one interesting addition to the phone line-up. This gaming add-on turns a Sony Ericsson phone into a poor mans GameBoy. I guess its the companys 2004 answer to the delayed PSP.
Thats all for now. In Part Two, we wrap up Nokia, Motorola, LG, Kyocera and more.