By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Touchscreens, QWERTY keyboards, smartphone operating systems, international 3G capability and Wi-Fi are among the key features making their way into cellular handsets arriving in stores during the fourth quarter.
Carriers and suppliers are also focusing on easier access to phone applications via customizable home pages on a touchscreen. Samsung, for example, announced that it will bring its TouchWiz customizable user interface to the U.S. market with carrier introductions in the fourth quarter. The new Windows Mobile 6.1 OS, appearing on multiple new phones, also provides a customizable home page.
New keyboard-equipped phones include AT&T's RIM-made BlackBerry Bold, which is also the first AT&T BlackBerry to operate in 3G HSDPA (high-speed downlink packet access) mode in both U.S. and international markets. It features Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g. Another keyboard-equipped phone is Sprint's LG -made Lotus, a square-ish flip phone that flips open to reveal a QWERTY keyboard and dialing keypad.
New phones that combine touchscreen and QWERTY keyboard include AT&T's Samsung-made Epix and Sprint's HTC-made Touch Pro, both with Wi-Fi 802.11b/g.
Other keyboard-equipped phones were introduced earlier by carriers.
Here's the latest on what the handset makers are planning with their carrier customers:
RIM: The BlackBerry Bold is RIM's first 3G phone that operates in U.S. and international markets in W-CDMA HSDPA mode. It could be RIM's first BlackBerry to operate globally in 3G mode if it goes on sale before Verizon's planned Storm, a touchscreen BlackBerry that operates in CDMA 1x EV-DO Rev. A mode in the U.S. and in W-CDMA HSPA (high speed packet access) mode in foreign 2.1GHz bands.
The Bold, which features QWERTY keyboard but lacks touchscreen, will be available through AT&T's direct channels and select national retailers on Nov. 4 for as low as $299 with two-year contract and select service plans.
The Bold also "represents RIM's first attempt to address consumers directly with a device that is as attractive to average consumers as to its core audience of corporate users," said iSuppli senior analyst Francis Sideco.
"It retains the traditional business-oriented features, like support for global wireless standards and bands, and enterprise security measures. However, it also adds features oriented toward consumers, including a 2-megapixel camera, GPS, stereo headset capability for listening to music, and support for a full suite of audio and video formats."
Other features include Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g, 1GB of embedded memory, 16GB MicroSD/SDHC card slot, stereo Bluetooth and AT&T's Navigator Global Edition service, the only turn-by-turn driving instruction service that operates in the U.S. and in select international markets.
HTC: For Sprint's EV-DO Rev. A 3G network, HTC's Touch Pro is a Windows Mobile 6.1 PDA phone with a touchscreen and slide-out QWERTY keyboard. It became available the week of Oct. 26 in selected national retailers, followed by a Nov. 2 release in all Sprint channels. The price, $299 after $10 mail-in rebate, requires a two-year contract and either a $99 unlimited-use voice and data plan or a $25-plus data add-on plan.
HTC said the device is similar in styling and functionality to its touchscreen-only Touch Diamond, already available from Sprint, but the new model adds the QWERTY keyboard "for a more powerful mobile business experience." Both models feature TouchFLO 3D motion user interface. With it, for example,songs can be selected by sweeping a finger right or left across the display to "flip" through album art.
Other features include assisted GPS, MP3 player, business-card scanner, YouTube application, included 1GB MicroSD card, support for 16GB cards, 3.2-megapixel camera and a gravity sensor to rotate Web pages to landscape mode when the device is turned on its side. A video output lets users display PowerPoint slides, videos and pictures on a connected monitor.
LG: The company's Lotus, which became available at $149 through Sprint channels with two-year contract, is an EV-DO flip phone with square-like shape. It flips open to reveal a QWERTY keyboard. Other features include stereo Bluetooth, 2-megapixel camera, assisted GPS, MicroSD slot supporting up to 12GB cards, access to corporate and consumer email,video streaming and Sprint's over-the-air music download service.
It's also one of Sprint's first phones with One Click user interface, said to bring simple, customizable navigation down to Sprint's midtier devices. One Click lets users personalize their home screen's carousel menu to display create shortcuts to often-used applications, including Google Search and Web sites.
Pantech: The company announced free downloadable upgrades to the Windows Mobile 6.1 OS for users of its AT&T-network duo PDA phone and availability of all new duo phones with 6.1 out of the box.
The upgrade provides a customizable home screen, threaded SMS messages, zoom in/out Web browsing, more enterprise device-management support, and such improved productivity features as cutting, copying and pasting text.
Samsung: The Samsung-made Epix PDA phone, built for AT&T, operates on 3G HSPA networks in the U.S. and in international markets. It uses the Windows Mobile 6.1 OS, features QWERTY keyboard and touchscreen and launched as the first U.S. phone with optical mouse technology.
The optical mouse lets users navigate by sweeping a finger over it and clicking to make a selection. The mouse can be switched to operate as a traditional four-way navigation key. Users can also navigate by touchscreen, which can be controlled by finger touch or by included stylus. It retails for $199 after rebate and with two-year agreement.
Other features include stereo Bluetooth, assisted GPS, 2-megapixel camera, access to streaming audio and video, and AT&T's Video Share service, which lets users stream live video while talking.
In a separate announcement, Samsung said its first U.S. phones with the TouchWiz user interface will be available this quarter. The technology lets users drag and drop preinstalled widgets from a widget tray to the home screen for one-touch access to often-used functions, including Web browser, music player, navigation services, IM and search tool. Carriers could add widgets that provide instant access to select carrier services.
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.