iPhone: One Year Later

Apple's splash into the cell phone market proved consumers will pay for hip devices. Now the race is on to one-up the iPhone.

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The Copycats

Apple's competitors, primarily the traditional cell-phone makers, have so far offered a set of competitive features wrapped in sleek cases that imitate the iPhone. Representatives of two competitors, Hewlett-Packard Co. and Palm Inc., acknowledged at a recent conference that when the iPhone was announced, their teams launched a series of focus groups and design meetings to wrack their brains to create something better.

"There's no doubt that the innovative interface of the iPhone caught most industry stalwarts flat-footed and most are now aggressively trying to catch up to Apple," notes Jack Gold, an analyst at J.Gold Associates LLC.

For example, Sprint Nextel Corp. and Samsung Inc. announced the new iPhone-like Instinct wireless device on April 1. Due to ship this month, it is designed to improve on the iPhone touch screen with the use of haptics, a technology that lets users feel a "buzz" when an icon or keypad is touched. (Some iPhone users complain that they can't "feel" a button push.) The Instinct uses a different technology from the iPhone accelerometer, but it still allows a user to maneuver the device to navigate on a Web page. The Instinct also adds voice commands for making Web searches, and it natively supports GPS for mapping and location-related searches.

Some iPhone imitators are also trying to woo customers on price, offering devices for $349 or even less, compared with iPhone's $399 (if buyers can find one). That strategy might not pay off, however, if Apple lowers pricing on its new iPhone models. Predictions vary, but Dulaney and independent analyst Jeff Kagan claim that the current iPhone line will drop in price this summer, with newer devices on a 3G network selling at the current price.

Reports surfaced in April saying that AT&T might even subsidize that cost and offer a next-generation iPhone for an amazing $199. Still, iPhone imitators might also bargain with buyers by offering more flexible network voice and data pricing than Apple and AT&T do.

The biggest improvements that iPhone users want, based on message boards, blogs and other sources, are native GPS capability, increased storage capacity, more memory, longer battery life, support for Adobe Flash to run multimedia applications and, foremost, a faster cellular network. During an April press conference at CTIA Wireless 2008, AT&T Mobility LLC President and CEO Ralph de la Vega reiterated that 3G support for the iPhone and other devices is coming this summer.

What that probably means is that next-generation iPhone users will get HSDPA/UMTS 3G connectivity, which has already been deployed by AT&T in major metropolitan areas, with download speeds of more than 600Kbit/sec. -- well above the existing EDGE speeds of 70Kbit/sec. to 135Kbit/sec. While Flash doesn't seem to be coming anytime soon, mobile device consultant Glenn Edens and other analysts say third-party developers will have a plethora of applications for the iPhone in coming months.

Gold expects a "running battle for features" and "user interface improvements" from Samsung, Motorola, RIM, LG Electronics and Nokia, among others, for the next several years. However, Edens believes that the iPhone, and its future iterations, could actually relegate many competing devices to the gadget graveyard.

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