New Devices Could Change the Cell Phone Landscape

New Devices Could Change the Cell Phone Landscape

There are a number of gimmicks that cell phone service providers use to be successful in the market. Calling plan incentives and phone rebates are common, but we discuss how the phones themselves could be the most significant factor on the future of the market.

Our Cell Phones Are Growing Up

There are a few new devices that could make the computing and communicating transition seamless, as we hinted at in our Micro-PC article a few weeks ago. To give you an idea of how quickly technology is changing, there have already been several advancements in the digital phone realm in the past few weeks. Among the new developments, Cingular Wireless became “The New AT&T,” and Apple announced the iPhone (after changing its name from Apple Computer, Inc). With these major industry developments, some new devices have been released, and there are reports of some other exciting technologies that will be coming to us this year. Let’s see what’s in store for the consumer.

Verizon Wireless

Verizon Wireless has gained a lot of ground over the last few years with the “In” network and the ads we all remember (“Can you hear me now?”). Is Verizon Wireless really all it’s made out to be? My personal opinion is that it’s not. Verizon has just recently (in the past year) begun to focus on technology and advancing it to the next level. While customer service may still be lacking, its devices are beginning to get a much needed overhaul.

With the introduction of the Samsung SCH-i730, Verizon is definitely showing a desire to bring the most advanced devices to the consumer. This particular device is capable of many tasks, including features such as Bluetooth, a sliding QWERTY keyboard, Wi-Fi support (allowing you to access files on your wireless network and print to network printers), and an SD card slot. This phone (or “handheld device” as Verizon calls it) also includes Microsoft Windows Mobile and Windows Media Player for MP3s and video files. You can view Microsoft Word and Excel files, listen to music, or watch video using the unique built-in stereo speakers (one of the very few units across the major carriers to include this advancement).

The downside to the i730 – there’s no camera feature. Of all the items to exclude from a device, Samsung and Verizon chose the wrong one in my humble opinion. You absolutely have to build in a camera these days. How many times do you find yourself without a digital camera and needing to take a quick shot of something? And for the less recreational user, this would prevent using the phone for any kind of teleconferencing. The point to a multifunction device is to eliminate the need to carry other devices. They’ve done so with the MP3/video player, Wi-Fi, and Pocket PC functions, but leaving the camera out is a curious and ill-advised omission. If you want that almost necessary function, the next best thing from Verizon in my mind is the Motorola Q, but even that has its trade-off - you’ll have to do without the Wi-Fi feature.

The New AT&T

Samsung is also associated with another major carrier, the new AT&T (formerly Cingular Wireless, and AT&T Wireless before that – but that’s a whole other story). There has been considerable hype revolving around the BlackJack, which appears to be a stellar device. With 3G (Cingular’s newest, high-speed network of towers), the Windows Mobile operating system, Bluetooth connectivity, a 2.0 megapixel camera, QWERTY keyboard, and Windows Media Player, this unit is a leap in the digital phone/handheld computer world. The most significant downside to this unit is the dual batteries. Samsung includes two batteries for you – knowing you’ll need them. If you’re a heavy user that utilizes Bluetooth and all the other bells and whistles, you’ll be switching batteries before lunch time. You literally need to keep the second battery charging and ready to go at all times.

One of the quick tips to this device in order to save battery life is to use as many power-saving features as possible. In my personal use of the BlackJack, I managed to gain a lot of battery life by dimming the brightness of the screen slightly and by keeping the Bluetooth feature disabled when not in use. For the novice user, this is a difficult task; going through the settings menu, connections, enabling or disabling Bluetooth – but I’ve got an easier way for you. One trick I learned from experimenting is that you can simply hold the “Fn” button and tap the letter “B” on the keyboard to enable/disable Bluetooth on the fly.

I believe this device had excellent introduction timing with one exception – another company’s better timing - Apple. The iPhone looks like it could be the new leader across the board. Having been a PC guy my whole life, I have to admit: Apple has done a lot with the iPhone. It’s a video iPod, is Wi-Fi capable, Windows and Mac compatible, and it is touch-driven with a load of other features. This device is the first cell-phone to come in a 4GB or 8GB version (two to four times the maximum memory of many other carriers’ devices), and it has already begun to revolutionize the industry. Although it will be a little pricey (estimates put the 4GB device at around US$500, and the 8GB at $600, with a two-year service agreement exclusively with AT&T), it is a true “all-in-one” device. And with AT&T’s “fewest dropped calls,” (keep in mind it’s “fewest,” not non-existent), I see the iPhone helping AT&T stay in the lead among its competitors. The only drawback to the iPhone that I can see so far is that you won’t be able to get it for a while. It will be very similar to the Elmo, Xbox 360, and Playstation 3 epidemics. Expect to wait a few months or pay a very pretty penny to get your hands on one of these units, but it looks like it will be worth it in the end.

Things To Look Forward To

As for other advances in the industry, by the end of the year we can look forward to being able to simply wave your Bluetooth phone in front of a vending machine to get your snack or Coke product without having to have cash or change. The Bluetooth will wirelessly connect and automatically deduct from your checking or credit/debit card account. According to a corporate Cingular representative I spoke with, this is already being piloted in New Jersey and has been seen in Switzerland and other European countries. He says we can look for it this year in the major U.S. metropolitan areas. He also mentioned the introduction of true video conferencing technology (pioneered primarily by AT&T/Cingular) coming this year. You’ll simply place your phone calls to other AT&T customers (and other carriers at a later date) and be able to see them in real time as you talk, very similar to a standard, land-line video phone.

2007 looks to be a year that includes some of the latest and greatest advances in technology. We’ll continue to update you on these leaps and bounds throughout the year, and we encourage you to leave us feedback or suggest topics you may want us to write about on our forums.

Edit 2/27/07: Corrected information regarding current cell phone market leaders. -JW


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