iPhone rivals look to cash in on iPhone 3G launch

They push their own smart phones as Apple focuses on phone apps

If the orginal iPhone really was the Jesus Phone, and Friday's launch of iPhone 3G is the Second Coming, what does that make the iPhone look-alikes recently launched or being launched by Apple's competitors?

Would they be iPhone prophets? Or maybe iPhone disciples? Perhaps even iPhone splinter sects, for Heaven's sake?

Divine beliefs aside, there are a sizeable number of mobile phones and smartphones on the market that Apple competitors hope can compete with the new iPhone 3G, even if the vendors won't actually draw a direct comparison. These manufacturers have until now tended to focus on the use of a touchscreens for input. But with iPhone 3G coming out, the new emphasis is on how some smartphones have long been able to access faster 3G wireless networks.

Sprint Nextel has been particularly forward about promoting its new Instinct, which was developed with Samsung. Sprint noted that the Instinct started selling out at some stores shortly after its June 19 launch. And Best Buy, the Instinct's exclusive US retailer, yesterday declared the multimedia smartphone its best-selling handset of the past two years based on the first two weeks of sales.

On Friday, Palm plans to unveil a new low price for an "electric blue" Centro being sold through AT&T along with both white and black models. The price will stay in effect until September 20, and is timed to coincide with back-to-school sales. A Palm spokeswoman noted in an e-mail that Centros sold for use with Sprint's and Verizon's networks function on 3G networks, and that the Palm has had 3G-capable smart phones "for years."

Palm noted that the Centro, with a touchscreen, is half the price of iPhone 3G, available in more colors and from more carriers. (In the US, the iPhone 3G is available only from AT&T.)

The comparisons, implied or direct, by competitors to the iPhone started when the original Apple device was announced in early 2007. In addition to the Instinct and Centro, there is also the LG Voyager, the Motorola Rokr E8 and Nokia's N95, although some of the features they offer vary widely from the iPhone, which passed its first anniversary two weeks ago.

There are other prospective rivals in the pipeline for later this year, including the BlackBerry Thunder; Nokia's reported iPhone beater, which is code-named Tube; and a number of possibilities based on the Android open platform.

Despite all the comparisons to the iPhone's hardware, the real news to arise from the Friday launch could be the release of Apple's App Store, through which the company will distribute more than 550 different applications for free or nearly free. The applications vary from access to news content to medical dictionaries and games, and the number of apps being offered is expected to grow quickly.

Although competing phones already offer an array of applications for work and entertainment, the App Store has put an emphasis on very low cost ones, and some admittedly unusual ones, analysts and reviewers have noted.

One example: Melodis Thursday announced a free music search application for the iPhone called Midomi Mobile. It's expected to be available in the App Store on Friday and will allow a user to quickly find a favorite song by singing, humming, speaking or typing information about it into the iPhone. It even allows a user to hold the iPhone in front of a speaker playing recorded music to get information on the song being played.

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Matt Hamblen

Computerworld

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