Maybe there were no screaming headlines about revolutionary new phones, but I found 10 baby-step trends of what cellphones will and won't look and act like next year and beyond. Keep reading to see the five biggest cellphone trends for 2009, followed by the five biggest non-trends.
1. 4G Cell Networks
The next "big thing" in cellphone networks is LTE (Long Term Evolution), a 4G network technology providing wireless mobile broadband speeds of 6 to 8 Mbps, 10 times faster than current 3G EV-DO and HSPA networks. Verizon announced it would start offering LTE service sometime in the middle of next year in around a dozen or more markets, with AT&T likely to follow in 2011.
What about Sprint's XOHM-branded WiMAX 4G service? Well, after a year, it's available in only two markets, Baltimore and Portland, OR, and Nokia has discontinued the N810, its lone WiMAX handset. I saw only one new WiMAX handset in Vegas, the Windows 6.1-powered Samsung Mondi, due in the next few months from Sprint.
2. VoIP on Cellphones
Then again, maybe we won't even need cell networks to make a wireless call, especially those expensive international ones. Skype made a big splash when it announced its iPhone app. The problem is, you have to use a Wi-Fi connection to make calls — you can't use AT&T's network to access Skype, which smacks of restraint of trade (or whatever the legal concept is).
Not generating nearly as much attention was Skype's other announcement of offering its service for BlackBerrys, no Wi-Fi needed. The BlackBerry Skype app is in beta for the Bold, and may be available for the Curve and other models later. Non-Wi-Fi Skype apps already are available for Windows Mobile, JAVA-phones, the T-Mobile G1 Android phone and the Sony Ericsson Xperia X1.
Even lower key is a VoIP app called TruPhone, available for both the iPhone and iPod Touch (Wi-Fi only) and now the BlackBerry.
3. QWERTY Keyboards Everywhere
Time was, the only cellphones equipped with QWERTY keyboards were smartphones and T-Mobile Sidekicks. Since we now communicate far more via text than voice, QWERTY is no longer quirky.
And such variety: There are BlackBerry-like slab QWERTYs. You have vertical slide-out QWERTYs with three lines of keys like on the new LG Neon (AT&T) and with four lines of keys like on the LG Xenon. You have slider-style vertical QWERTYs like on the Samsung Propel Pro (AT&T). You have a horizontal QWERTY with staggered rows of keys like your PC keyboard like on the HTC Snap (spring, no carrier announced yet), rather than the usual linear row/column layout. You even have a detachable QWERTY on the LG Versa (Verizon). QWERTY keyboards even come on cheap phones — Sprint will sell the new Sanyo SCP-2700 slab QWERTY phone for just $30 in May.
4. App Stores Aplenty
Everyone's heard about how much money Apple and its app developers are pulling in. So now everyone wants a goose that lays the golden apps.
There's Google's Android Market. Microsoft has already announced its Windows Marketplace for Mobile for apps for Windows Mobile smartphones. At CTIA, BlackBerry's App World launched with more than 1,000 applications. Nokia will launch its Ovi Store the first week of May for apps that will run on phones running its Symbian OS. And Palm just provided more information for webOS app developers for its Palm Pre, due in a couple of months. One of the first webOS apps will be Classic, which will let Palm Pre owners run old Palm OS apps on the Pre and future webOS phones. I may go back to programming school!
5. No More New Phones
The biggest trend at CTIA was actually a negative. The recession, combined with the world being awash in cellphones, has left handset makers and carriers with lots of unsold phones. So instead of introducing piles of new models, everyone wants to sell the cells they have. Most makers announced only one or two new models; Sony-Ericsson didn't announce any.
1. New Android Phones
It's been five months since T-Mobile started selling the HTC-made G1, and not even a hint of when a new one is coming, at least not for the U.S. The HTC Magic Android phone, a slab model with a trackball, is coming to Europe. HTC hopes a U.S. carrier will pick it up.
Of course, no one really said a second Android phone was coming. We all just assumed that there'd be a flood of 'em in short order. But why aren't there more? I heard a lot of "they're hard to do" rationale, but I don't believe a high degree of difficulty has anything to do with it. What does? Feel free to speculate because I haven't the foggiest.
2. Bluetooth 2.1
The so-called Simple Pairing Bluetooth protocol (officially version 2.1) is supposed to make the initial pairing of a compatible phone to earpiece dead simple for even the most technically challenged.
But except for LG and, to a lesser extent, Nokia, Bluetooth 2.1 handsets are few and far between, and no new 2.1-enabled models were announced last week. Plantronics announced one 2.1-enabled earpiece, the Explorer 390. Jabra has none, but all its new earpieces coming in June will be 2.1.
Maybe everyone is waiting for Bluetooth v3.0, which will be announced in a couple of weeks. Bluetooth 3.0 will be a high-speed version, and, according to the Bluetooth people, "will run on top of the 802.11 radio, allowing for fast transfers of videos, music, photos" or any large data transfers. Maybe.
3. Mega-megapixel Cameraphones
Where are all the 5MP+ camera phones? T-Mobile has three — the 5MP Motorola MotoZINE ZN5, the 5MP Samsung Behold and the 8MP Samsung Memoir — and Verizon has one, the 5MP Samsung Omnia. And that's it.
Oh, there were a couple of high-megapixel models announced — the 8MP Nokia N86, for instance. But the N86 and all the other high-megapixel cellcams are unlocked and expensive. Where are the subsidized high-megapixel models? Still on our wish lists, I'm afraid.
4. Windows Mobile 6.5
Windows Mobile 6 is a near disaster on touchscreen phones such as the aforementioned Omnia. So about six weeks ago, Microsoft announced Windows Mobile 6.5, its touchscreen operating system.
You'd think CTIA would have been the perfect place to showcase Windows 6.5. But not a single handset maker I visited had a phone running Windows 6.5. Most did say their new touchscreen phones now running Windows Mobile can be upgraded to 6.5 if and when. Everyone's hoping 6.5, due in the fall, doesn't turn out to be Vista for cellphones.
5. Open Networks
You know how any TV you buy will work with any cable or satellite provider? Lots of folks think this is the way cellphones should work: You buy any cellphone you like and then choose which network it should run on. Makes sense, right?
You know who else thinks there should be open networks? Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile, all of whom endorsed the open-network concept at CTIA. Great, they endorsed the concept. But pot will be legal before America's cellphone carriers loosen their grip on their networks.