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3/27/2007
06:07 PM
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Smartphones Hit The Runway At CTIA

The announcements continue the trend of smartphone makers moving into the consumer market with lower priced and more stylish devices.

Major news coming out of the first day of the big CTIA Wireless 2007 was sparse, but it wouldn't be CTIA without an array of new mobile device announcements. The handsets that have debuted so far have continued the trend that first saw light in May 2006 with the release of the Motorola Q: Smartphone makers, who have traditionally targeted enterprise users, are increasingly moving into the consumer market with lower priced and more stylish devices.


CTIA Show Image Gallery


Sprint Shows Off The Samsung UpStage Mobile Music Phone


Sprint Shows Off The Samsung UpStage Mobile Music Phone

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"Beginning with the Q, we've seen a real spike in interest among 'prosumers' and mainstream consumers in smartphones," said Miro Kazakoff, a senior associate for wireless devices with Compete, a market research firm that specializes in online shopping behavior.

What that means for vendors is devices that are at once flashier than your basic black BlackBerry, and lower priced. Here's a roundup of the device announcements of the last 24 hours:

Taiwan-based High Tech Computer, which has in the last two years moved beyond being a pure manufacturer of equipment for other companies to releasing devices under its own brand, debuted two interesting new devices: the Advantage and the Shift. The Shift isn't really a smartphone per se, but what's called an "ultra-mobile PC" (UMPC). About the size of a pair of CD jewel cases, the Shift has a tilt-up screen and a full laptop-style keyboard, plus multiple connectivity options, including GSM, Edge, UMTS, HSDPA, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi.

Rather than a conventional mobile operating system such as Windows Mobile or Symbian, the Shift runs the full Windows Vista Business. Whether professionals want to carry what's essentially a miniaturized laptop rather than a smartphone remains to be seen -- and High Tech Computer isn't saying what the price will be, though it will likely be close to $2,000.

Equally novel is the UpStage from Samsung, a thin candy-bar-sized device with a phone on one side and a music player on the other, packaged in a slim "battery wallet" that provides significantly extended battery life without recharging. Not technically a smartphone -- it doesn't include mobile e-mail capability and doesn't run on an open mobile platform -- the UpStage is a so-called "feature phone" notable for its schizophrenic form factor. It will be sold initially exclusively through Sprint for $149.

Searching for a hit to follow up the popular Razr slim phone, Motorola introduced a series of hard-to-distinguish new consumer phones plus the MC35, a durable voice/data communications device. Along with the previously released MC50 and MC70, the new smartphone is the result of Motorola's acquisition last year of Symbol, long a maker of "ruggedized" devices for enterprises. Called an Enterprise Digital Assistant by the company, the MC35 includes built-in GPS capability, WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity, mobile e-mail over high-speed Edge wireless data networks, a camera, and a bar-code scanner.

Sony Ericsson, which hasn't really kept up with the advent of fashion-conscious smartphones in the North American market, introduced the Z750, which isn't a new Nissan sports car but a slim, round-edged feature phone with support for both corporate e-mail using Microsoft Exchange push e-mail, and personal e-mail via POP3/IMAP gateways. Running over HSDPA and Edge networks for coverage both in the United States and abroad, the Z750 doesn't have a U.S. carrier yet, and it's not clear that whichever carrier eventually offers it will enable the device's e-mail function over its network.

Conspicuous by the absence of new smartphones at CTIA was the world's No. 1 handset manufacturer, Nokia, which rolled out several new devices at 3GSM last month. Nokia continues to expand on its E-series of powerful new smartphones and showed a pair of prototype devices including the Communicator, which is the size of a large cell phone but unfolds into a mini-notebook computer that offers "a laptop experience on a mobile device."

Hovering in the background, of course, is the Apple iPhone, which got a free promotional push from AT&T COO Randall Stephenson at the morning's keynote session. It will cost a hefty $499 and isn't available yet.

The proliferation of shapes, colors, sizes, and form factors of these devices indicates that the days of identical looking BlackBerries and BlackBerry knock-offs are fast waning. What will catch on with the mass market isn't yet clear -- but it should be fun to watch.

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