New smart phones due out next year

Three new cell phones that double as personal organisers have been announced for shipment early next year, offering mobile users the chance to carry one device instead of two.

Analysts predict the pricey smart phones, which cost $US500 to $600 in the US, will sell next year mostly to the early-adopter crowd that wants to carry just one device. They also say the devices may become mainstream in two to three years.

The latest device in the convergence trend was formally announced last week by Japan-based Kyocera, which bought the handset division of Qualcomm. The Kyocera Smartphone is estimated to start at $499 and operates on Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) networks.

Its organiser runs on a Palm operating system, Kyocera officials said. In form and basic functions, the Kyocera handheld is similar to the R380 World from L.M. Ericsson Telephone, which was announced in November.

Both new handhelds place the keypad for the phone on the bottom, with a portion of the organiser visible. When the user flips down the keypad, a much larger view of the organiser's screen is available, so the user can read longer e-mail messages, search for phone numbers and dates, browse the Web or send instant messages.

The R380 operates over Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) networks, which are available in the US but don't have as large a coverage area as CDMA, said analysts. The Ericsson smart phone uses the operating system of London-based Symbian, which is more popular than the Palm in Europe. The phone will sell for about $600, Ericsson officials said.

The Kyocera and the R380 device are expected to sell in the US starting early next year. The third smart phone announced last week, the 9210 Communicator from Nokia in Finland, won't be available in the US. It incorporates a personal organiser and GSM phone in a clamshell design.

Alex Hu, vice president of audit technology at The Chase Manhattan Corp in New York, said he is "not too thrilled" about the latest announcements and that he might wait until smart phones that incorporate Microsoft's Pocket PC operating system, dubbed the Stinger, hit the streets late next year. He said he would be more impressed with a Windows-based operating system. "We're eyeballing all these devices for all sorts of potential uses," Hu said. Analyst Bryan Prohm at Gartner Group said smart phones will need to drop to $150 before they reach a mass market.