By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
The cellular industry is encroaching further on consumer electronics industry turf.
Vendors here at last week's CTIA Wireless convention expanded the selection of cellphones that do double-duty as handheld GPS-navigation systems, MP3 players, handheld TVs, e-mail devices and digital cameras.
Vendors also made some home technologies mobile by giving consumers the ability to make voice-over-IP (VoIP) calls from cellphones and watch their local TV channels on a cellular handset while away.
Highlights here at the show included:
the U.S. market's first 4-megapixel camera phone, available from VK Mobile;
the first two handsets from MVNO Helio, which also announced a MySpace.com partnership to transfer MySpace's online social networking experience from the PC to the phone;
hosted GPS-navigation services that let phones display moving and pivoting maps similar to the displays on installed car navigation systems;
Blackberry e-mail service availability on phones other than those offered by Research In Motion. At least one Samsung-brand phone and one Nokia-brand phone feature Blackberry Connect e-mail service;
Mapquest's entry into the cellphone-based navigation market with a Mapquest-branded service hosted by Telmap; and
the proliferation of phones with memory-card slots to store digital images and music. Almost three-quarters of new phones sold worldwide in 2010 will likely include a memory-card slot, Strategy Analytics forecasts. The capacities of embedded memory are also growing.
Infrastructure and handset vendors also demonstrated the competing MediaFLO and DVB-H video broadcasting technologies and the latest high-speed data technologies, such as WiMAX and W-CDMA's high-speed downlink packet access (HSDPA). All promise to turn cellphones into handheld digital TVs.
In a development that could change the way cellphones are sold, BitWave demonstrated software-defined radio (SDR) technology, which would enable a single handset to operate in multiple frequency bands and air interfaces.
Here's a look at what's not staying in Vegas:
Handset Developments: New handset suppliers such as VK Mobile and Pantech are joining the dominant players in offering multimedia handsets that double as portable entertainment centers. Attendees are finding new models from the following suppliers:
Helio: The MVNO, an EarthLink-SK Telecom joint venture, unveiled the first two handsets that will accompany its launch, still set for spring. The Pantech- and VK Mobile-made phones are exclusive to Helio.
Both phones, dubbed "personal entertainment centers," are 800/1,900MHz CDMA 1x EV-DO phones, indicating a launch over Verizon's EV-DO network, although Helio has contracted with both Sprint and Verizon to resell airtime.
Both phones feature a 2-megapixel camera/video camera; 70MB embedded memory; TransFlash memory-card slot; MP3 playback; MPEG-4/H.264 video playback; stereo speakers; and QVGA, 2-inch by 2-inch, 3:4 262K color LCD display.
The Pantech-supplied Hero is a black slider weighing 4.73 ounces and delivering up to three hours of talktime or up to eight days of standby. The VK Mobile-made Kickflip, available in white pearl finish, swivels open to the right or left with the flick of a finger. The 4.5-ounce phone delivers up to 3.3 hours of talktime or up to eight days of standby time.
Planned distribution channels include a mix of Helio-owned stores, traditional cellular distribution and untraditional venues shopped by its target 18- to 32-year-old customers. The three target customer segments are young affluent trendsetters who want to get things first and will wait in line for them, people who are largely still in school and have "heavy entertainment and communications needs," and fashion-conscious urban dwellers who see their phones as an expression of their selves.
At launch, consumers will be able to use the phones to access MySpace Mobile, optimized for handsets' small screens and delivering MySpace.com's PC-based experience. Users will be able to view profiles of MySpace participants, view their photos, read and write blogs on the go, send messages to profiled users, read and write MySpace mail and post photos to MySpace directly from the phone.
Samsung: Slider designs, quadband capability, Bluetooth and MP3 players are turning up in many new Samsung handsets, most of which were previewed at International CES. (See story above.)
VK Mobile: The Korean manufacturer, through distributor InfoSonics, unveiled its second wave of phones for North American and Latin American markets, all featuring GSM quadband worldphone capability, MP3 players, TransFlash memory slots and cameras. One model features a 4-megapixel camera. Two come with a 1.3-megapixel camera and three feature a VGA camera. Three feature Bluetooth. The 4-megapixel model is the slim VK2200 bar phone with MP3 player, MPEG-4 video playback, Java and USB 1.1 port.
The VK5000 is the company's first EDGE-equipped phone. InfoSonics has an exclusive distribution agreement with VK Mobile through April 2007 for sales and marketing in Canada, the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean. It also distributes other brand phones, which it programs and packages for sale to tier 2-4 carriers.
Wherify: The company plans May or June availability to consumers of its long-delayed Wherifone GPS Locator phone at a price lower than the originally announced $150.
It's positioned as a safety and security tool for use by young teens and the elderly. It's also targeted to businesses that want to quickly find their employees and vehicles
The phone incorporates proprietary enhanced-GPS technology designed for use with Wherify's back-end server. Consumers will track the whereabouts of the person carrying the phone by accessing Wherify's monitoring service through a Web browser or by a voice call.
This TWICE webinar, hosted by senior editor Alan Wolf, will take a look at what may be the hottest CE products at retail that will be sold during the all-important fourth quarter. Top technologies, market strategies and industry trends will be discussed with industry analysts and executives.