Weekly Wrap: Selling Out
By Carlo Longino, Fri Dec 05 09:00:00 GMT 2003

Consumers have surprised handset vendors by buying mobile phones in droves this holiday season, some new gadgets, working on smartphone OSes and UIs, and more...

Handset vendors and retailers have been caught unawares by the huge demand for phones during the holiday shopping season. While a supposedly rejuvenated economy may be driving some of the sales, a lot of high-end phones are available at much lower prices than ever before, causing a run on the devices. Combine that with the height of a replacement cycle in Europe, and many manufacturers are running into component shortages and some retailers' stocks are running low. Motorola's even blaming the high sales for the delay of some of its camera phone models, an area where it's already significantly lagging other manufacturers.

Japanese carrier NTT DoCoMo said this week that it has developed a dual-mode WCDMA/WLAN handset with NEC that it would release next April. The device will run on DoCoMo's FOMA 3G network and corporate 802.11b networks, and will be able to use VOIP on those corporate nets. DoCoMo also said it was looking to have its handset vendors standardize their OSes, now adding Linux to its stable along with Symbian.

Another NEC handset making waves is the V601N, Japan's first handset that can receive TV broadcasts. While the phone, made for Vodafone, doesn't boast very good battery life (60 minutes of TV will totally drain the juice), it's expected to sell well in the country. Japanese broadcasters are already toying with interactive programming that uses feedback from mobile users, and several other manufacturers will release handsets with TV tuners soon.

One more gadget announcement, this time from American vendor BSquare, which said its Power Handheld would be sold by Vodafone, and that it's currently available from the carrier's UK unit. The device runs Windows CE .NET, and features a slide-out keyboard (a la the Siemens SL55) and a huge 4" 640x480 screen.

Several stories came out this week commenting on the future of smartphone operating systems and user interfaces. One blogger delivered a comprehensive look at some of Japan's most advanced handsets, giving Western users a glimpse at some features they may soon find on their own phones. A second piece surmises that smartphones will displace laptops for many users, while another takes a look at the current state of user interfaces and comes away largely disappointed.

We saw a couple pieces on carrier strategy this week as well. The first stories naming early winners and losers in the US WLNP battle emerged, with Verizon and Nextel appearing to have the early lead, with consumers a clear loser thus far as carriers face problems in actually porting the numbers. Another piece took a look at Vodafone KK (formerly J-Phone) and its efforts to rebound from the hurt KDDI's high-speed services have been putting on it.

Vodafone's global strategy was also in the air, with the carrier's group strategy director showing some of its hand with regards to next year's 3G launch. He says the carrier sees 3G just as an underlying technology and not a service in and of itself, supporting their current content and services but improving the user experience thanks to higher transmission speeds.

Elsewhere, we learned of one California town's plan to blanket the entire city with Wi-Fi, and of the extensive female interest in UMTS.