Cell phones providers and manufactures have long been a CES staple and this year was no exception. Motorola, for example, used CES to announce a deal to make the Google search engine accessible on some of its phones at the touch of a button. Google, or for that matter, any Web site has long been accessible from most cell phones but getting access can be a pain in the thumb. With one-touch access, Google search becomes easier and that means it's more likely to be used.
Motorola also announced that it cut a deal with Kodak to make picture taking, editing and transfer easier from cell phones. Already, there are more camera phones in the world than stand-alone digital cameras but as anyone who's tried to use their camera phone knows, getting the pictures out of the camera where they can be seen by others is not always such a snap.
CBS News technology consultant Larry Magid reports from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
A lot of industry insiders believe that, eventually, people will be more likely to access the net from cell phones and other hand-held devices than they are from PCs. Already, text messaging is extremely popular in Japan and Europe and is starting to catch up here in the U.S. Young people in the U.S. are increasingly comfortable to use a cell phone numeric pad to type messages. In Europe, text messaging via cell phones (they call them "mobiles" are commonly used by business people in lieu of email or making a phone call.
Yahoo also announced that is making its instant messaging, email and photo exchange services available to cell phone users. Yahoo's Mobile to Go service lets you store and synchronize contacts and phone numbers, record instant voice messages and get notified when new mail arrives. The service is initially available only on select Nokia Series 60 handsets but it will grow to other phones over time.
Apple and Motorola made a big splash last year when they announced a cell phone integrated with iTunes. But Verizon and Sprint have upped the ante when it comes to music on cell phones. Last year Sprint announced its Sprint Music Store that allows you to purchase songs for $2.50 each. I've been testing the service on a Samsung Multimedia phone and it works fine; $2.50 is a stiff price to pay for a piece of music. Verizon plans to charge $1.99 per song downloaded to your cell phone but it will also allow you to download songs to your PC for 99 cents – the same price as Apple's popular iTunes store. Once a song has been downloaded to the PC it can then be transferred to compatible cell phones. The phones themselves will have a limited memory but Verizon plans to sell memory expansion cards that will give the phones the capacity to store up to 600 songs. The service will initially work with the LG VX8100.
There was other news about wireless phones but it's about voice over Internet rather than cell phones. Skype and Netgear announced that they're offering a WiFi wireless phone that will let Skype users make and receive calls from any WiFi hotspot. The cell phone providers have no role in this venture. It's strictly about making calls over the Internet. PC and Mac users have long been able to use Skype and other providers to make calls from their computers. A few months ago Linksys released a cordless phone that works with Skype but it requires a special adapter be plugged into your network router. With this new phone, you simply need to be near any hotspot whether at home, at work, at a coffee shop or anywhere in a community that offers WiFi access.
There is one limitation, however. The phone will work on open networks and even those that are encrypted (assuming you have the access key) but you can't use them on paid WiFi networks like T-mobile which require you to enter a username and password on a web page. The phone lets you make free calls to other Skype users and a display shows you a list of your contacts that are online. You can also use it to dial regular phones for a small fee.
This type of phone should be increasingly useful as communities start to install city-wide WiFi zones. Google, for example, is wiring all of its home community, Mountain View, Calif. for free WiFi. Major cities including Philadelphia, San Francisco and New Orleans are striving to be fully "unwired" as well.
Uniden and Microsoft also announced a deal regarding cordless phones. Uniden, which is a major manufacturer of traditional cordless landline phones is working with the software giant to develop the "Windows Live Messenger phone" which will access regular phone lines and also be able to make voice over Internet calls. The Win1200 phone will allow users to make free calls to other Windows Live users, low cost calls via the Internet to landline users or regular incoming or outgoing calls through their standard landlines. The phone, which will cost $99, connects to the PC via a USB port.