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Hung up on the buzz

Cell phone technology continues to evolve

Cell phone technology continues to evolve

February 04, 2007|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

Cell phones that are just for making phone calls - that's so 10 years ago.

Nowadays, you can do almost anything on your cell phone: send e-mails, check ballgame scores and determine exactly where you are in space.

The latest cell-phone buzz came in early January, when Apple unveiled its plans to create the next "it" phone, the iPhone. The phone enables users to make a phone call by touching a name and number on a screen. Users also can watch movies and TV shows, according to Apple's press material.

The phone also comes equipped with a camera, a wide-screen iPod with touch controls and wireless Internet access, among other things. Prices for such a phone, set to hit American stores in June, start at $499.

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But tech experts say that's only the beginning. There are even better things in store when it comes to cell phones.

How about a cell phone that can translate documents, enlarge text for the visually impaired, scan business cards, scan bar codes, read and translate street signs, and read and interpret medication instructions?

Applied Media Analysis Inc., a College Park, Md.-based company, is working on software that will enable phones to "see," said Andy Bucholz, director of business development, in a telephone interview.

Bucholz said that in most cases people with smart phones could acquire the software as a plug-in.

"It's easy to envision technology going this way," Bucholz said. "Why be hampered (by) your desk? When you're out and about, you want to do the same things you can do at your desk."

Market analysts say there is definitely a market for all-in-one, multimedia cell phones. But they're also finding that once consumers purchase the devices, they don't necessarily indulge in all the bells and whistles.

"We're finding people want them, people are willing to pay for them, but they're just not using them," said David Chamberlain, principal wireless analyst for In-Stat, a high-tech consultant firm in Arizona.

The reason people purchase the technology but don't use it, Chamberlain said, is likely tied to quality, ease-of-use, and integration into a technological ecosystem - the ability to blend with existing technology.

Chamberlain co-authored a study released in October 2006 that studied consumer attitudes toward music phones.

The 2006 report, which surveyed 1,033 cell-phone users, found that 335 said they would purchase a phone with MP3 capabilities.

But of the 59 respondents who said they already were MP3 phone owners, a little more than half said they had downloaded music files onto their handsets.

According to the report, only about a third said they had a satisfactory experience with the music-playing capabilities of their handsets.

The study concluded that music phone owners won't likely "ditch the iconic iPod just because multimedia phones can play music."

According to the study, music phones might suffer from the "camera phone precedent." Prior In-Stat surveys have found that camera phone users take and send far fewer pictures than they had expected before purchasing their handsets.

He said the study might have broader implications for the existing market for multimedia phones.

Still, the study did suggest that music-enabled phones and other mobile-based services will gain traction in the long term.

Chamberlain said the new iPhone was a sign that technology and design might finally be catching up to consumers' expectations.

But Chamberlain still has his own vision of the future.

"The dreamer in me wants to have more specialized devices," he said. "I would prefer to see devices that do less, but do things better."

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