By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Two-way radios, or general mobile radio service (GMRS) units, continue to evolve, not only doubling in range to 10 miles in the past two years, but now adding features such as text messaging.
Two companies, Motorola and US Electronics (BellSouth), are each planning to ship this year two-way radios with peer-to-peer text messaging that does not require an Internet Service Provider. At present the jury is still out on the market acceptance of the feature, but many suppliers see it as a hit with children once the price dips closer to the entry level.
Motorola is offering text messaging in a new Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS) unit with five channels, 38 subcodes and 5-mile capacity. Shown as a prototype at CES last month, it offers peer-to-peer SMS text messaging via a built-in thumb pad but can only be used with another MURS radio. Shipping in the fourth quarter, it comes with rechargeable batteries at an estimated $99 per pair.
Not all suppliers are ready to jump on the text-messaging bandwagon. "We're not convinced it's going to be a service that will be significant," said Cobra senior VP Tony Mirabelli. "If it drops to a low enough price it may be something that children can use, but the price points have to come down quite a bit," he added.
Uniden director of project management, Rex Holloway, said text messaging for the kids market is a "niche that some retailers are excited about. It has some limitations, but the potential to deliver." Uniden hopes to announce a text messaging two-way radio at around $49 a pair within six months, Holloway said.
US Electronics is already hitting that price with the new BellSouth 2176 GMRS. It offers text messaging and 10-mile range and requires another text-capable GMRS for messaging. The 2176 will ship and the end of the second quarter at an estimated price of under $50.
Text messaging is not the only "combination" type two-way radio debuting this year. Motorola, which recently teamed up with Giant International, plans to ship several new combination-type Talkabout units, including MP3 and solar models in the fourth quarter.
Motorola's new 22-channel GMRS/MP3 has 38 subcodes and a 2-mile range. It allows downloading of up to 64MB of music and is expected to carry an estimated price of $79 per pair, including earbuds.
Also new is a "solar radio" GMRS with 5-mile range. The T5SOL has 22 channels and 38 subcodes and comes with a NiCd battery, but it can also charge via a solar panel while in use, for added power. The "charge as you go" unit is aimed at outdoor enthusiasts and is expected to be available at a retail price of $79.95 per pair.
The new Motorola "gaming radio" is aimed at users ages five to eight. It will offer four embedded popular games whose titles will be announced. The GMRS unit has five channels and up to a 2-mile capacity. Pricing is expected to fall at approximately $39 to $49 per unit.
Many suppliers remain wary of combining GMRS with features that are geared to a different audience, such as MP3.
"We've tried numerous times to add things to FRS, like FM radio, but unfortunately, whenever you try to put two pieces of non-related technology together, they just don't make it," said Mirabelli.
Less controversial is the new 10-mile range now sweeping the high end (up from 7 to 8 miles in 2003). Nearly all suppliers this year are offering extended range and some are also showing new super slim-line units.
Audiovox is claiming the slimmest new GMRS for the market — at ¼-inch thick—with a range of five miles. It has 38 subcodes and a built-in FM radio and high-intensity LED flashlight. The light, itself, has a range of 25 feet and an extended viewing range of up to a mile, said Audiovox. The new GMRS 500SLK has a rechargeable lithium polymer battery, ear bud with microphone and a well charger at a suggested list of $49.95.
Audiovox also unveiled last month a new 10-mile GMRS twin pack with 38 subcodes, NOAA weather alert and high-intensity flashlight. Called the GMRS9010-2, it has a suggested price of $79.95 and is also available with a dual desk-top rapid charger (model GMRS9010-2CH) at $95.
Cobra's new 10-mile GMRS has 38 subcodes, 8-point digital compass, clock/alarm/stopwatch and NOAA weather alert. The 3-watt PR-4250-WX will carry a suggested retail price of $79.95.
Midland will offer what it claims is the first 4-watt, 10-mile GMRS for consumer use. Called the GXT400, it has NOAA weather alert, five unique call tones and vibrate alert. It also comes in a camouflage version. It will ship in the second quarter at a price to be announced.
Also new in the slim-line arena is the XFR350RD from US Electronics (Xact). The GMRS unit measures ½-inch thick. It offers 22 channels and 38 subcodes and has a backlit clock display plus voice activation, rechargeable battery and AC charger. It is expected to ship in the second quarter.
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.