There's so much going on in the cellular industry right now, it's high time for a Top 5 list that's about more than handsets alone. Don't worry, there's some hot handset action here for you. But I'm also running down some trends and news to keep an eye on, as it's usually the behind-the-scenes stuff that really determines what your new cell phone will look and act like.
Sprint's ultra-aggressive plan to rollout their "Xohm" WiMax network over the next 12 months or so may be slowed down a bit by the recent ouster of CEO Gary Forsee. Still, WiMax is exciting, and the business model Sprint has outlined for their WiMax services is exciting, too. Sprint President of 4G Barry West said all kinds of crazy things this summer about Xohm being open to as many devices accessing as much of the network as possible, and driving down data costs for consumers in the process. Go-anywhere high speed service for my phone, laptop, and home router? For cheap? Sounds good to me.
2. Gatton v T-Mobile s154947
The Supreme Court of California ruled against T-Mobile last week, paving the way for a lawsuit challenging the company's early-termination fees and locked handsets. T-Mobile was challenging the decisions of two lower courts that allowed the class-action suit to proceed, but the high court declined to review the rulings.
So what? So if the plaintiffs win the case, T-Mobile could be forced to do away with $200 early termination fees and carrier-lock handsets. And the legal precedent set by such a ruling would likely have a big-time ripple effect on other carriers. It's a longshot, but if any state court might rule in favor of the consumers on this one, I'd put my money on California's court.
3. Google vs Nokia vs The Networks
Who knows what Google is really up to with their so-called gPhone, except that it'll revolve around Google Ads. Nokia, on the other hand, has made their intentions clear with several Web 2.0 acquisitions and R&D projects all bundled under the "Ovi" brand name, and a plethora of high-end handsets for sale direct and unlocked from their flagship stores.
The trend here is a question: "Who Owns the Network?" Until now it's been the network operators - your choice of handsets, your mobile Web selections, your messaging, your ads and music and videos and photo blogging, it's all been controlled and provided for you by the Verizons and AT&T's of the world. Nokia - and Google, I'd think - are out to change all of that with a direct-to-consumers model that could mean better and less expensive options for you the consumer.
4. SE k850a, LG Voyager, Motorola Something
Sick of hearing about the iPhone and all the would-be iPhone killers yet? Don't blame you. Except that Apple has once again shaken up an industry and inspired all of its competitors to play catch-up - much as they did with the iPod several years ago, they've done again with iPhone.
While it wouldn't be fair to call any of these handsets iPhone wannabe's, it might be fair to say their forthcoming appearances on major US carriers is something of a response to Apple's raising the bar of what American consumers want and expect in a high-end mobile device.
SE's k850a will bring 5 megapixels of auto-focus, Xenon flash picture taking to your phone, along with high-speed 3G data. LG's Voyager will feature both a giant front-mounted touchscreen and an internal QWERTY thumboard paired with a secondary display. And Motorola's supposedly got something all multimedia-focused up their sleeve ... though I'll believe that one when I see it with a carrier's logo on it. Love 'em or hate 'em, it's hard not to thank Apple for giving the cellular marketplace a little kick in the pants this past June.
5. Location-Aware Everything
Driving directions? Restaurant reviews? How about location-based ads, dating services and social networking, television programming, and online shopping just to name a few. GPS-enabled handsets plus high speed data plus Web 2.0 could equal the beginning of a truly all-connected, all-knowing Web. The big question won't be whether or not Big Brother is watching us through our cell phones, though. The big question will be when Mobile Facebook tells you that person you've been messaging with is actually sitting two tables over from at the cafe, will you go talk to him face-to-face or not?