New cell phone bells and whistles are arriving so quickly that most consumers should be cautious before spending hundreds of dollars on the latest product offering. It may be obsolete next month. But the mega-trend you should keep an eye on is the move away from audio-centric (for phone calls only) to data-centric phones, also known as smartphones.

A study by
ABI Research estimates worldwide smartphone shipments at 80 million in 2005 and nearly 150 million by 2008. Larger screens, increased memory and storage devices, and access to high-speed broadband networks will permit the delivery of video and music programming to more mobile communication devices than ever before; cell phone gamers will be enjoying multi-player competitions at broadband speeds. Much of the credit for this rapid advance in technology goes to the growing popularity of Mobile Weblogs, known as MoBlogs. Many MoBloggers create amateur journalism websites where breaking news events can be covered with video originating from their own cell phones, downloaded to their blogs in seconds.

As one of the leaders in cell phone innovations, Samsung will offer a new cell phone (SPH-V5400) that not only functions as a 3.2-megapixel camera but also offers the ability to play feature-length movies and 3D games. Storage needs are met by a 1.5GB hard drive, but industry experts expect that to increase to as much as 10GB very quickly. When this occurs, expect to see phones that double as MP3 players, not to mention the ability to offer GPS mapping services as well as being a PDA. In 2005, cell phones will be using more GPS chips than any other device.

Starting February 1, 2005, Verizon is marketing its new V-cast service in partnership with Microsoft's Windows Media Player. Special phones will offer access to 300 daily video clips from entertainment services including MTV Networks, 20th Century Fox and NBC Universal.

Cingular is now offering the Treo 650 SmartPhone, which allows globe-hopping users to make calls and transfer data in over 70 different countries. Within the United States, the Treo 650 has access to Cingular's EDGE network, the nation's fastest wireless data network.

New multi-protocol cell phones will be able to switch between their own digital networks and local WiFi networks such as the one at your nearest Starbuck's or Barnes & Noble bookstore. As a result, they will soon double as Voice-Over-Internet-Protocol phones as soon as the cell phone companies can work out some complex billing issues between competing networks. This means that you'll have the option of placing calls via your network or via the Internet (VOIP).

There is an unfortunate downside to these rapid innovations--viruses. As the link between cell phone and Internet becomes stronger and more multi-layered, hackers will begin to look at the smartphone as their latest challenge. On January 11, F-Secure, a Finnish computer security company reported a Brazilian cell phone virus called Lasco.A, which spreads through a phone's Bluetooth connections as well as by attaching itself to files. This dual mode of contagion was a first for cell phone viruses, according to a spokesperson for the Finnish company. A cottage industry in cell phone virus protection software will undoubtedly spring up to offer protection from virus attack and, just like the virus protection on your desktop computer, it will require frequent online updates/downloads to stay current.

Unfortunately, there are no new developments in the controversial area of interchangeability. Most users want the ability to keep their cell phone when they switch providers, but although number portability is now the law, interchangeability is not. There is an ongoing lawsuit by a California consumer group against T-Mobile, AT&T and Cingular for "locking" their cell phones. For more information, check in with

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Posted 02-14-2005 9:07 PM by Doug Casey