Smartphones Take Center Stage

SAN FRANCISO — “We won’t all be using smartphones in 10 years.”

That may have been the most sobering comment at the one-day Smartphone
Summit conference here Monday.

The gathering of communications and mobile
device executives and developers featured positive comments and analysis of
the current and future state of so-called smartphones. Ironically, though,
there was no clear agreement on just what a smartphone is.

“We have between 56 and 85 percent global market share depending on what
you say is a smartphone,” said Jerry Panagrossi, vice president of U.S.
operations for Symbian, the leading provider of operating system software
for cell phones.

Still a panel of industry executives that included
Panagrossi agreed whatever the definition, smartphones today make up about
10 percent of the cell phone market worldwide, and the percentage will
increase significantly in the next five to 10 years.

The broadest definition of a smartphone came from HP.

“Smartphones are
computers you talk to,” said Rick Roesler, vice president of handhelds for
HP, in a separate presentation.

But while HP looks to eventually morph its iPAQ PDA into a smartphone,
most of the vendors at the conference had a more phone-centric take on where
phones are headed.

“The keyboard or keypad represents a fundamental bottleneck on input,”
said Rick Geruson, CEO of Voice Signal, which makes embedded voice
recognition software already in some 45 million cell phones. The company’s V
Suite software enables voice activated menus for common tasks like accessing
a Microsoft Outlook directory and speaking a command like “Dick Cheney at
home” to call Mr. Cheney should he happen to be among your contacts.

HP’s Roesler sees corporate users wanting to do more than what voice can
offer. He predicted mobile users will be able to connect smartphones and
devices like the iPAQ to wired or wireless docking stations, with a
keyboard, mouse and other peripherals giving the user ready access to the
equivalent of a desktop computer. “And it’s only a matter of time before
services and content for phones is indistinguishable from what’s available
for PCs,” he added.

From HP’s perspective, the fast-evolving smartphone market looks very
familiar. “The phone will be your PC,” said HP’s Roesler. He drew
comparisons to the PC market in the 1980s which was fragmented by competing
standards and technologies but experienced rapid growth after a standard
software platform (Windows) and hardware architecture (Intel and the PC
bus), were established. As software and hardware standards for smartphones
continue to coalesce, he predicts the industry will see explosive growth.

A company called i-mate previewed its Charcoal JAM mobile phone for the
U.S. market (the company is based in Dubai, but has offices in the U.S.).
Running on Windows Mobile for Pocket PC, the Charcoal JAM includes 128 megabytes of built-in memory, is Bluetooth compatible, features a 1.3 mega-pixel
camera and video recorder and includes e-mail, Internet Explorer, Windows
Media Player 10, and Microsoft Pocket Office applications, a built-in voice recorder and speakerphone. The portable device
can operate on the Cingular and T-Mobile networks as well as any other GSM
network. It runs $665.

Several speakers agreed that e-mail is a leading or “killer” application
for smartphones, and that others will be necessary to break significantly
beyond the 10-percent share of the market. The cost of smartphones, currently
several hundreds of dollars, was also mentioned by panelists as an
impediment to higher sales

Voice Over IP (VoIP) was a hot topic of discussion. One company at the
conference, Silicon Valley-based Kineto Wireless, announced last week that
Korean manufacturing giant LG Electronics is shipping the CL400, a mobile
phone with celluar/Wi-Fi capabilities along with a built-in camera and MP3
music player.

The company said future versions would support VoIP which
promises to lower the cost and range of call connections.

Analyst Gerry Purdy of Mobiletrax said future “Mobile VoIP” phones with
WiFi will enable users to walk around and stay connected using whatever
technology gets the best access automatically.

“In the enterprise we’re seeing explosive growth of WiFi,” said Patrick
Tao, vice president of worldwide marketing for Kineto Wireless. “But there
are different types of WiFi networks, some are just in meeting rooms, not
contiguous throughout a building.”

Advances will need to be made in longer battery life though as WiFi
connectivity adds more power demands.

“You need to think about battery
consumption,” said Tao. “Last year’s WiFi chips use too much power for any
meaningful talk time.” In addition to improved batteries, panelists
mentioned coming improvements in “sleep” technologies that power down the
phones when not in use to preserve battery power.

The more power the better, as other features are sure to follow. HP’s
Roesler said HP had integrated Global Positioning System (GPS) capability
into some of its mobile products already.

“The cost of GPS silicon and
antennae has come way down,” he said. “You’ll see more PDAs and smartphones
integrating GPS in the future.”

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