Mobile Tech

Verizon Gets iPhone-ish With Four New Handsets

Verizon Wireless trotted out four new mobile handsets Wednesday that it hopes will be able to compete against heavy hitters such as the iPhone for a share of the 2007 holiday season market.

Two of the phones, the Voyager and the Venus, both from LG, include touch screen functionality. The Juke is aimed at music lovers, and the Blackberry Pearl 8130 is gunning for business users.

“We are excited about these devices,” said Mike Lanman, vice president and chief marketing officer for Verizon Wireless. “Our fourth quarter device portfolio includes best-in-class multimedia wireless phones that offer customers the latest in innovative technology and an array of features.”

“Whether customers are seeking a cool, hip, fashion-forward music phone, a device that will help them stay connected to the office, or an entertainment-rich device that can also function in a business setting, we will have it — on the nation’s most reliable wireless network,” he added.

This is just the first round of new handsets Verizon plans to make available to customers just in time for the holidays, the company said.

Can You Hear Me Now?

Billed as the perfect device for “customers who never leave home without their wireless phones or their music players,” the Juke from Samsung is an entry-level device industry watchers predict will be priced around US$100. Aimed at the under-21 crowd, the phone includes 2GB of internal storage, so users can bring their MP3, WMA and unprotected AAC files along for the ride. However, unlike Verizon’s established music phone, the Chocolate, the Juke does not support over-the-air (OTA) music downloads. Those happen via a USB cable connected to a computer.

Music features aside, the phone, available in blue, red and teal, also comes with a VGA camera with Nightshot, Bluetooth stereo support for listening to music, and access to Verizon services such as VZ Navigator, GPS system and Chaperone.

With Juke, Verizon has tossed aside flips and sliders and introduced what it called the “flick” phone. To expose the number pad, users will flick, or swivel, the top half of the phone to the side.

Love Connection

It remains to be seen if consumers will fall for the Venus. A Verizon Wireless exclusive, the phone boasts dual front screens. The lower screen offers users touch navigation with vibration feedback. The microSD memory port adds up to 8 GB of expandable memory for owners who travel with a collection of their favorite tunes.

Available in pink and black, it also includes a 2.0 megapixel camera and camcorder as well as access to the phone carrier’s Get It Now downloadable applications service as well as V Cast Video and Music. The music player supports MP3, WMA, and unprotected AAC files.

Pumped-Up Pearl

Verizon has finally brought its business customers the BlackBerry Pearl 8130, a model that has been available on other carriers for several months. The multifunction handset provides wireless broadband (EV-DO) connectivity using the carrier’s 3G wireless network. The result is a peppier Web surfing and e-mailing experience. The silver-colored phone, a Verizon Wireless exclusive, offers an HTML browser, calendar and messaging functionality. It also sports a 2 megapixel camera and a built-in GPS functionality for use with Verizon’s VZ Navigator service.

LG’s Voyager, another Verizon Wireless exclusive, hits the high end of the market and is the first phone from the carrier to offer an iPhone-like large external touch screen. LG has supplemented the touch screen with a flip-up QWERTY keyboard, something the iPhone does not have.

Voyager’s features include an HTML browser and a music player which supports the three above-mentioned media files. It also operates over Verizon’s 3G network for faster downloads. In addition, it supports several Verizon services, including V Cast Mobile TV, V Cast Music and V Cast Video. Users can also purchase accessories for the handset such as Bluetooth stereo speakers and headsets, designer phone cases, extended batteries and arm pouches.

Verizon has not revealed how the phones will be priced, but said it plans to release the phones in November.

Who’s Afraid of iPhone?

Industry watchers predict that the iPhone will do well in terms of sales this holiday season, but there is also room for other phones among consumers who cannot or will not lay out the $400 necessary for the cutting-edge handset.

Verizon may be marching down the wrong path in its efforts to cast The Voyager as a “good enough iPhone, said David Chamberlain, an InStat analyst, though he noted he has not had an opportunity to try out any of Verizon’s latest handsets.

“That seems like an unusual way to position the whole thing,” he told TechNewsWorld. “A touch screen does not make an iPhone. A music player doesn’t make something into an iPhone.”

What it does is show the kind of influence the iPhone has had, he said. According to Chamberlain, he and other analysts knew immediately following the iPhone announcement last January that there would be scads of engineers in Asia scrambling to mimic at least the outward appearance of the Apple device.

Phone manufacturers and carriers instead need to worry about functionality, including stronger and faster processors and internal capacity for music; however, none of these things will turn a phone into something that will make the iPhone a thing of the past.

“There are no killer apps, no product killers,” Chamberlain continued. “Will it rival the iPhone? Sure. It is what it is and until they have that functionality built into it they will be tilting at windmills.”

The iPhone, priced at $400 — and bound to go up in price in 2008 when AT&T puts it on its own 3G network — is really for a select group of people, Tole Hart, a Gartner analyst, told TechNewsWorld.

“It’s not for everybody, and there are a lot more customers out there,” he explained. “Not everyone is interested in wireless data.”

Hart expects over the coming year that phone manufacturers will catch up and offer their own iPhone-esque devices that will be compelling for consumers.

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