Commentary

RRRing In The New Year: Smartphones For All Seasons

Motorola/Droid

The summer of smartphones has turned into the holiday pre-season of smartphones. Another wave of high-end devices is hitting the market this fall led by the Motorola Droid from Verizon Wireless and including the BlackBerry Storm2, Motorola Cliq, HTC Hero, Samsung Moment and a slew of other Android-powered phones.

For consumers, comparing handset features, operating systems and service plans will become more of a headache than ever. For mobile advertisers, the ongoing smartphone frenzy is all for the better if it expands the share of people using phones to text message, watch a video, browse the Web or get driving directions. To get from a quarter of the U.S. mobile population using smartphones today to half would be a big leap.

Manufacturers and wireless carriers are already pushing in that direction. Motorola, for example, has said it will shift its resources away from traditional phones and toward converged mobile devices in 2010, with the Droid and Cliq only the first products of that renewed focus.

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And in laying out a roadmap for next year, David Owens, vice president of consumer marketing at Sprint, said the operator plans to introduce lots of Android phones from HTC in 2010 and expects prices to come down as the Google platform becomes more widely adopted.

T-Mobile's pair of new unlimited calling plans unveiled this week also signal continued downward pressure on phone plans. With T-Mobile and Sprint now offering unlimited voice, text and data for $99.99, it looks like that's where the market overall is headed. The rollout of more, cheaper smartphones combined with cheaper plans should only accelerate adoption and help create the scale marketers have been looking for in mobile.

The only other big question is whether the wireless networks will be able to handle the sort of data traffic surge AT&T has struggled with in connection with the iPhone. A Verizon executive this week boasted the carrier would be able absorb increased data demand driven by the Droid without having to add any network capacity. The first test will come next week when the Droid lands.

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