I recently spent a couple of days at the CTIA show in New Orleans, and I came away convinced that the cell phone is quickly becoming
the “third screen.” The other two screens, the TV and the PC, have already become key ways to access and view all types of digital con-
tent, but the cell phone has emerged as another way to access the Internet and its plethora of information. In the United States, the idea of using a cell phone to access the Internet is relatively new, but in other parts of the world, especially Japan, Korea and China, the cell phone has become the primary way.
Of course, the main feature of a cell phone is still its calling capabilities, but thanks to new and more powerful operating systems from PalmSource, Symbian, Microsoft and Qualcomm, smartphones are actually becoming handheld media platforms.
Walking the show floor, it was evident that using a cell phone for entertainment was the next big thing, as the major carriers and phone makers see this as the next way to add revenue to their bottom lines. For example, MobiTV is now providing live TV streams of news, sports and music videos directly to smartphones. And major carriers, such as Sprint PCS, Verizon Wireless and Cingular Wireless, are all working to make sure their customers can get access to music, video and enhanced camera phone functions in their next generation of services.
However, as these small phones and screens evolve, the cellular telecommunications industry is facing some interesting challenges. First and foremost, it’s determining whether U.S. customers even want to do more on these devices than make calls. “Feature-itis” is creeping into the designs of phones, and they’re packing on more features and functionality than any one person could either want or use. Plus, the more a phone can do, the more confusing it is for a customer to decide which one is right for him or her—or even how to best use it in their digital lifestyle.
The other real challenge is the user interface (UI) and the way a person eventually views, accesses and navigates its functions and content. To that end, I was pleased to see quite a few new technologies that make it much easier to use these newer smartphones.
A product from Fastap caught my attention. The folks there have found a way to eliminate the “triple tap” necessary when instant messaging by creating a full keyboard in which the entire alphabet is built into the actual numeric keypad, making it amazingly simple to enter text even on a small cell phone.
Synaptics is also working hard on new cell phone UI navigation. They’re the folks behind most of the touchpads on today’s laptops and have recently provided Apple with the scroll wheel on its iPods. Synaptics is also looking into putting sensor pads on the side of phones or directly on the phone’s keypad, making it easier to scroll through messages, applications and other content.
It is becoming pretty clear that the PDA/cell phone combo has morphed into this new smartphone platform, and while they are quickly becoming the go-to device for many mobile business users, they will soon become a feature-rich media platform at the heart of many users’ mobile entertainment.