Smart Phone Market Gets Crowded

smart phone BlackBerry keyboard

Both handsets, designed to feel more like cell phones than handheld computers, will compete with about two dozen other smart phones that run on advanced operating systems such as Windows Mobile, Symbian and Palm.

Despite the growing selection, smart phones are expected to account for less than 3 percent of all wireless handsets shipped in 2004, or about 17.6 million of an estimated 650 million, according to Kevin Burden, research manager for mobile devices at IDC. The number is expected to nearly double next year to about 30 million, or 4.3 percent of an estimated 700 million shipments.

Veering away from the traditional keyboard design that's proven so popular on its BlackBerry e-mail pagers and phones, Research In Motion is aiming the new 7100t squarely at consumers rather than BlackBerry's loyal base of lawyers and other white collar professionals. Developed for T-Mobile, it's promised for October.

The 7100t, priced aggressively at $199.99 after rebates from T-Mobile, still relies on the familiar layout of the alphabet on a "QWERTY" typewriter but places two letters on each key to slim the device. So, for example, letters "Q" and "W" share a key in the upper left-hand corner.

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But with 14 keys rather than the usual 26 to choose from, typing requires a leap of faith in SureType, the predictive software RIM has developed specifically for this device. Rather than worrying whether the device will choose the Q or the W after pressing that key, users are asked to plow ahead and trust that SureType will make the right spelling decisions.

To do this, SureType draws upon both a database of 35,000 common words and all the spellings of names and addresses in the user's personal contact list. The software is also programmed with common strings of words and is designed to learn from the user; once an unrecognized word has been typed twice, it is added to the database.

How well this new keyboard-software combination works is unclear.

RIM and T-Mobile rushed out pre-production models for journalists to test before a bike race sponsored by T-Mobile this week, but the device and services were not ready for a trial run.

The instant-messaging service was not yet available and the e-mail application malfunctioned on the handset provided to The Associated Press for testing. In addition, a more advanced Internet service planned for the device was not yet live, and the Web browser failed to connect repeatedly.

T-Mobile plans to offer the 7100t with a monthly subscription of $59.99, not including extra service fees and taxes. The package features 1,000 minutes of calling and a rare unlimited allowance for e-mail, instant messaging, SMS text messaging and Web browsing.

The Nokia 9300, not expected to hit the market until the first quarter of next year, is a slimmed-down version of the also yet-to-be released 9500 handheld.

With an expected price of roughly 700 euros, or about $850 at current exchange rates, the 9300 is designed like a cell phone on the outside, and opens like a clamshell to reveal a full QWERTY keyboard and a suite of applications compatible with Microsoft Office and BlackBerry e-mail systems.

The device comes with 80 megabytes of internal memory and a 128 MB removable card to hold larger files such as MP3 songs, presentations and spreadsheets.

Unlike the 9500, this model doesn't feature a camera or a Wi-Fi transmitter to connect with a local wireless network. It does, however, provide short-range wireless access through Bluetooth and infrared connections.

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