Wireless Carriers Begin Holiday Push For Gadgets, Services

Wireless carriers catering to tech-crazed consumers began pushing a gaggle of gadgets and services this week to prepare for the holiday buying season. In 2007, marketing incentives run the gamut as the high-tech phone battle heats up among Apple, LG, Research in Motion (RIM), Samsung and more.

AT&T introduced RIM's BlackBerry Curve 8310 this week. The phone extends capabilities already available in the 8300 introduced in June. The new version adds built-in global positioning system (GPS) for turn-by-turn voice and on-screen directions with colorful three-dimensional moving maps and traffic alerts with rerouting instructions.

The BlackBerry Curve 8310 screen supports 320-by-240 pixels and 65,000 colors. It comes in two new colors--titanium or red, weighs just 3.9 ounces and comes with a 2-megapixel camera with 5x digital zoom. RIM took the lead on a BlackBerry Curve celebrity launch party in May. AT&T will work with RIM to run ads online, TV and on signs in stores.

Verizon also unveiled Samsung's Juke, and last week began marketing RIM's BlackBerry Pearl 8130, along with both the Venus and the Voyager from LG. All will hit stores before Thanksgiving.

Sheryl Sellaway, spokeswoman for Verizon Wireless, says consumers will see more TV, in-store signage, and promotions as the holidays approach. "We also will have what we call a Samsung drive period around the Juke," she says, declining to tip her hand.

The Juke features a camera with dedicated night-shot mode for low-light, compatible with Verizon's download service for games and ringtones. Samsung built 2GB storage into the 2.82-ounce frame. It also features advanced speech recognition and messaging options.

Aside from the hardware, consumers getting ready to plunk down cash for holiday presents might consider service plan additions from AT&T and Verizon. The two carriers plan to let consumers make changes to calling plans without extending their contracts. Analysts say the move shows goodwill, and could have an outcome on where consumers spend money this season.

The move stems from a bill introduced last month by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) that would require wireless companies to pro-rate fees charged to cancel cell phone contract. Cancellation fees typically offset discounts on expensive phones.

In other news that could have consumers looking closer at the iPhone this holiday season, Apple's agreed to let independent software developers create applications for the phone. CEO Steve Jobs said Wednesday the company would make a developers' kit available in February.

Apple initially took the position it would allow only third-party developers to write applications through the Safari browser, attempting to protect users from viruses and malware on the phone. Apple, however, came under fire for wanting to control the phone's development system, which could hurt marketing efforts.

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