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Smartphones, Touchscreens Dominate CTIA

Touch-screen-equipped multimedia phones, smartphones and the first cellular/satellite phone were among the handsets unveiled at the opening day of the CTIA Wireless convention.

Touch-screen phones and smartphones in particular are dominating handset launches to leverage continued unit growth in both segments despite shrinking sales of new phones overall. Market researcher IDC estimates factory-level sales of handsets in the U.S. fell 4.7 percent in 2008 and will fall 14.8 percent this year before picking up again in 2010, when IDC expects sales to grow 6.1 percent. Those figures reflect devices destined for purchase by enterprises and consumers. Despite the downward trend, U.S. smartphone sales by vendors grew 68.2 percent in 2008 and will rise 7.9 percent in 2009, then surge again at a 28.4 percent rate in 2010, IDC said.

NPD statistics show that touch-screen phones accounted for 20 percent of all handsets purchased by U.S. consumers, excluding enterprises, in the fourth quarter of 2008, up from the year-ago 7 percent.

Here are some of the new handsets designed to ride the sales wave:

HTC: The S721 3G smartphone, based on the Windows Mobile 6.1 Standard OS, will be available in the U.S. in the summer as an unlocked GSM/W-CDMA/HSPA device. It’s positioned as an entry-level smartphone and as such offers hard QWERTY keyboard, no touchscreen and Windows Mobile Standard OS instead of Windows Mobile Professional. It’s not the company’s first Windows Mobile Standard device.

Despite its entry-level positioning, the S721 will be decked out with assisted GPS, 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, 2-megapixel camera with video capture, Windows Live Search, Bluetooth 2.0 with EDR, MicroSD slot, playback of multiple audio and video formats, jog ball, one-touch hot keys for messaging and email, and extra-large domed keys with responsive tactile feedback. It features a 2.4-inch QVGA display. A proprietary feature called Inner Circle lets users move the emails of select people in the phone’s contact list to the top of the email inbox at the touch of a button.

Outside the U.S., the 4.23-ounce, 4.59-inch by 2.42-inch by 0.47-inch device will be called the Snap.

The quadband GSM/EDGE device operates in HSPA mode in the U.S. 850/1,900MHz bands. Talk time is 8.5 and five hours in GSM and W-CDMA mode, respectively, and respective standby times are 15.8 days and 20 days.

LG: The company lit up with the touch-screen-equipped Xenon multimedia phone, equipped with slide-from-the-side QWERTY keyboard for AT&T Mobility.

The quadband GSM/EDGE, 850/1,900MHz HSDPA phone features 2.8-inch touchscreen with vibration feedback, display that shifts from portrait mode to landscape mode when rotated to use the QWERTY keyboard, ability to customize the home screen with nine shortcuts, enhanced Flash for an animated user interface, music playback while other applications are in use, 2-megapixel camera/camcorder with flash and landscape viewfinder for holding the phone like a camera, stereo Bluetooth 2.0 with EDR, video playback, MicroSD slot supporting 16GB cards and 80MB of embedded memory. The 3.81-ounce phone is 4.16 by 2.11 by 0.62 inches.

TerreStar: The Reston, Va., company showed a reference design of a hybrid satellite/cellular smartphone based on the Windows Mobile Professional 6.5 operating system. The company plans to launch a satellite on May 28 for its 2GHz IP-based vice and data service.

The hybrid phone represents multiple firsts, the company said, including first satellite/cellular smartphone, first Windows Mobile-based hybrid phone, first hybrid phone with touchscreen or QWERTY keyboard, and first satellite phone with an internal antenna. The reference design incorporates quadband GSM and 850/1,900MHz W-CDMA/HSDPA to connect to cellular networks, and it uses 2.2GHz HSDPA to communicate via satellite. TerreStar has a nationwide roaming agreement with AT&T.

The reference design also features 100MB of memory, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS and USB in a 4.7 by 2.5-inch chassis that’s 0.6 to 0.8 inches in depth. Initial satellite data speeds are 160kbps down and 40kbps up.

TerreStar will offer phones and service on a wholesale basis to companies that will resell service to such vertical markets as government, public safety, and maritime markets but also to business users, people in rural communities where cellular coverage is spotty, and outdoor adventurers, the company said. Partner companies could include carriers as well as retailers, a spokesman said.

The company contended it will be more successful than other satellite-phone companies because it is building an IP-based 4G network whose “flexible architecture” will provide significant advantages. TerreStar’s devices, for example, will have the same size, weight and functionality as current smartphones.

The reference design was created for TerreStar by Elektrobit Corp. of Finland.