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CTIA showcases new wireless products

This year's CTIA show in Las Vegas, held April 1-3, had 1,200 exhibiting companies and more than 40,000 attendees from 125 countries.

CTIA is the major U.S. show that covers the cellular and wireless industry, made up of carriers such as Sprint, AT&T and Verizon, equipment suppliers such as Nokia, LG and Samsung, and components companies such as Qualcomm and TI.

What was new? More phones, many emulating the large screen/no keyboard form factor of the iPhone. There was new talk about how the carriers are opening up their networks so new devices can work on them without requiring long and costly approvals. These, of course, are the same carriers that have resisted opening up for years and have been dictating what features are put onto and left off of the phones. And companies unveiled more services to use on your phone, including GPS, mapping, social networking and entertainment.

San Diego's Qualcomm had one of the largest booths showcasing a wide range of products and technologies. Qualcomm's inGeo chip, for example, can track the location of individuals, people and pets to provide location information using its built-in GPS and data communications technology. Its new Snapdragon chip combines high-speed wireless connectivity with the processing power of a fast computer, yet with exceptionally low power consumption. Qualcomm's new Mirasol black and white displays provide clear visibility in bright light with virtually no power consumption. That means devices can have an always-on display with little effect on battery life.

TomTom showed new routing technology for its next generation GPS devices. Through built-in historical traffic patterns that vary by time and day, the devices will guide you to the fastest route. However, both TomTom and Garmin products are facing competition from carriers which add more GPS capabilities to their phones and provide real-time traffic information.

For example, Networks in Motion of Irvine announced AtlasBook Navigator, a new software platform enabling people to bypass traffic jams, explore a new town, plan social activities on-the-go or just find their way home using their GPS-enabled mobile phone. Its products are available from Verizon. (networksinmotion.com).

Fighting back, Garmin showed its new Nuvifone, although it was a non-working mock-up under a plastic dome. It's another all screen phone, similar in size to the iPhone, with a powerful GPS. It will be available later this year. (garmin.com)

Vringo showed a free add-in to Facebook that retrieves your friends' images and puts them into your cell phone, popping up when they call. (vringo.com)

MagicJack is a little device that plugs into a USB port and lets you make free phone calls from your computer to anywhere in the United States, even from overseas. Cost is $40 for the device that includes one year of service, plus $20 for subsequent years.

The Plantronics Discovery 925 Bluetooth earpiece uses an open frame design that extends the microphone without adding weight. It looks more like jewelry and comes with a combination recharger and carrying case to double the run time. $150.

BlueAnt introduced the V1 Voice Control Bluetooth headset that accepts spoken commands and talks back to eliminate the confusion of using tiny buttons and deciphering flashing lights.

Velocity Mobile introduced two new Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional smart cell phones that have their own ingeniously designed interfaces to simplify the use of Windows Mobile. The nicely finished all black phones, models 103 and 111, are slim and compact and have the same trackball used on BlackBerrys. Available next quarter. (velocitymobile.com)

VoiceCloud of San Diego introduced a real-time voice-to-text transcription service that transcribes voice messages and sends them as e-mail messages. VoiceCloud says their advantage over existing systems is that it's all done in-house so delivery is nearly instantaneous and it's less expensive. (voicecloud.com)

San Diego's Kyocera Wireless announced a merger with Sanyo's phone business and introduced a number of new phones, including four GSM models for Latin America and a limited edition for Virgin Mobile.

Nokia introduced the N810 Tablet with WiMax. The product is a Web browser with slide-out keyboard. But it's a limited device with no phone and intended to connect using WiMax, a new technology that's slowly rolling out. WiMax will initially be used for data and is intended to complete with cellular.

Sierra Wireless and Sprint introduced their Compass 885 MicroSD USB High Speed EVDO modem with an expandable memory slot. It's the smallest datacard yet designed to compete with Novatel's U727, which I am using and like a lot.

More than a year after the iPhone debuted, Samsung and Sprint introduced the Instinct phone that looks like a physical clone of the iPhone, although a tad narrower. From my limited use, it may look like it but doesn't work the same way. Sprint plans to spend $150 million in advertising for it, a dubious or perhaps desperate decision? It will be available in June at a price lower than the iPhone, according to Sprint.

So what was exciting and significant? Phones with built-in GPS that work better and do more than a stand-alone GPS, because they provide real-time traffic data and know your location; the amazing new Snapdragon processor from Qualcomm; and new unlocked phones with capabilities that offer more capabilities with no long-term carrier commitments.

Apricorn BIO secure portable drive

Poway-based Apricorn introduces a compact portable back-up drive that offers a high level of protection using a built-in fingerprint reader and real-time 128-bit AES hardware encryption, making the drive impossible to penetrate even if it's removed from its enclosure. You can access your data with the drive plugged into any computer; no software is required. The BIO come is several capacities from 80 GB ($159) to 250 GB ($259) and includes everything needed to work with a PC or Mac. It's ideal for business travelers that want to carry a backup without fear of it being lost or stolen.

Also, of note, Apricorn is celebrating its 25th birthday this month. The company has developed more than 600 products, including a range of hard drives to replace and upgrade existing notebook drives. Its upgrade kits are simple to use and excellent local support is available to assist. Apricorn's products and service are well regarded by the technology industry.

Baker has developed and marketed consumer and computer products for Polaroid, Apple, Seiko and others. He is the holder of 30 patents and was named San Diego's Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2001. Phil can also be heard on KOGO AM the first Sunday of each month. Send comments to phil.baker@sddt.com. Comments may be published as Letters to the Editor. Phil's blog is blog.philipgbaker.com.

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