Originally created 06/04/06

Today's cell phones are versatile



They don't have toothpicks, but today's cell phones are being touted as the Swiss Army knives of the 21st century.

"It's your Web access point, it's your camera, it's your television set and it's your e-mail," said Joe Farren, the spokesman for CTIA - The Wireless Association.

The cell phone is no longer just for dialing up friends, family and business contacts. That's old school.

"It used to be about a wireless phone," said Jeff Kagan, an Atlanta-based telecommunications analyst. "Now, if you think about the advertisements, they don't advertise phones. They show you downloading and playing games, taking pictures - doing things you couldn't do before."

In 2005, nontelephone services (text messaging, games, music, etc.) jumped a whopping 86 percent and accounted for $8.6 billion in sales nationwide, compared with $4.6 billion in 2004, Mr. Farren said. Five years ago, these services generated only $200 million a year, he said.

That number is likely to increase as the device evolves, Mr. Farren said.

Cell phone companies continue to add features, at an added price, that include fuel price listings, weather reports and Global Positioning System tracking.

Philosophically, the cell phone is becoming an extension of oneself, Cingular spokeswoman Dawn Benton said. Cell companies can reap the benefits of accessories, whether it's a panda bear carrying case or bling such as gemstones or adhesive "cell phone tattoos," she said.

Though data are sparse, Ms. Benton said Bluetooth technology is driving much of today's accessory sales. You typically can mark a Bluetooth user by the ear piece the user wears.

"Since more people are walking around with them in their ears, it's raising awareness," Ms. Benton said.

Bluetooth technology, installed in many phones on the market, enables a wireless, hands-free connection among a laptop, cell phone and other Bluetooth users.

The days of using an ear piece with a wire are numbered, said Stephan Swafford, Verizon Wireless' east Georgia district manager.

"Our new phones don't even have a headphone jack," he said.

Bluetooth has exploded in the past year, Mr. Swafford said, and Augustans are starting to come in asking for it. The store representatives also are emphasizing it in sales for those not already bitten by the technology bug.

Billy Johnson, the production manager for Eka Chemicals in Augusta, has equipped his staffers with Bluetooth phones.

Communication is easier at the plant, which manufactures chemicals for the paper industry. Instead of having employees paged, the phones allow staffers to get a call, answer it hands-free and then resume working with minimal disruption, Mr. Johnson said.

Mr. Johnson is able to answer his phone through his laptop, thanks to the wireless connection, and continue working at his computer while speaking with clients.

Like many Bluetooth users, Mr. Johnson spends the day with the ear piece attached.

"It just becomes another tool once you get over the stigma of wearing it and people looking at you funny," he said.

Not everyone is so committed to the ear piece, though. Augusta resident Bunny Simon Williams said wearing the ear piece everywhere you go is ridiculous.

"It so pretentious," she said. "It looks like that's all of your life."

Even so, Ms. Simon Williams uses Bluetooth while in her car to help keep her attention on the road.

She purchased a sleek leather carrying case to hold her phone because she drops it all the time, and she is experimenting with ringtones. She wants This Old Heart of Mine, by the Isley Brothers, but said she hasn't found it yet.

It's unclear which of these new cellular services and accessories will remain popular and lucrative, Mr. Kagan said.

"What we're experiencing now is the newness. Everyone wants to try it," Mr. Kagan said. "After the newness wears off, will we want to buy these services? We'll have to wait over the next couple of years to see which ones are still around."

Reach Tony Lombardo at (706) 823-3227 or tony.lombardo@augustachronicle.com.

U.S. cell phone use in 2005

Wireless subscribers: 208 million

Wireless penetration: 69 percent of U.S. population

Wireless-only households: 6 percent

Revenues: $113.5 billion, up 11 percent from 2004

Data revenues (Web, text messaging, gaming, etc.): $8.6 billion, up 86.4 percent from 2004

Minutes of use: 1.5 trillion, up 36 percent from 2004

Source: CTIA - The Wireless Association

Super cell phones

Mobile-phone manufacturers and wireless companies are increasingly adding gadgets that mimic the functions of laptop computers:

UT Starcom/Verizon XV6700

Features: Windows Mobile 5.0, 64 MB of RAM, WiFi, Bluetooth, slide-out keyboard and 1.3 megapixel camera.

Price: $399

Motorola SLVR

Features: Integrated VGA camera, Bluetooth, MP3 player, up to 512 MB of removable memory, downloadable wallpaper, screensaver and MP3 ringtones.

Price: $300

Cingular 8125

Features: Windows Mobile 5.0, 138 MB of ROM, sliding keyboard, color LCD touch screen, Bluetooth, Integrated Mini-SD slot for greater storage and expansion, optional 1.3 megapixel camera.

Price: $350

Palm Treo 700p

Features: 128 MB of memory, wireless access to e-mail, mobile web browser, operates as a high-speed modem for your laptop, view PowerPoint and PDF documents, Bluetooth and 1.3 mega-pixel camera

Price: $399

wRIM Blackberry 8700g

Features: Bluetooth, e-mail, speakerphone, MP3 ringtones, 64 MB of memory

Price: $300 to $500