Vodafone's New Lineup Includes iPhone Rival

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Vodafone Group PLC plans to launch several phones for holiday shoppers in Europe, including a high-end, touch-screen rival to Apple Inc.'s iPhone.

The British mobile phone operator has an exclusive agreement to offer the F700 smartphone from Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., said Jens Schulte-Bokum, head of the global terminal division at Vodafone.

The F700 is based on proprietary technology developed by Samsung. The phone, which Vodafone plans to customize and co-brand, has been referred to by industry pundits as an "iPhone killer."

The F700 has touch-screen capabilities and plays audio and video files. But unlike the iPhone, the device has a pull-down QWERTY keyboard and support for 3G (third-generation) and HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access), which has speeds theoretically as high as 7.2M bps (bits per second).

Schulte-Bokum declined to comment on whether Vodafone has plans to offer the iPhone, which Apple expects to launch in Europe in the coming weeks, although he did comment on its lack of 3G capability. "We like the iPhone. We think it's a unique user experience and we applaud Apple for what they're doing in the industry as a new starter," he said. "But we regret that the iPhone, initially, won't support 3G, which we believe is necessary to deliver a compelling music and Internet experience."

Of the more than 25 new handsets, including the F700, that Vodafone will launch ahead of the important holiday shopping season, 13 will support HSDPA. All of the planned new handsets will be 3G-enabled.

No pricing information was available. Phones will be available beginning later this month, but a schedule of exactly which phones will be released and when was not provided.

Vodafone will introduce two handsets using the Windows Mobile operating system: the Vodafone-branded 920, which is manufactured by Taiwan's High Tech Computer Corp. (HTC); and the co-branded i620v from Samsung.

In addition to Windows Mobile phones, the South Korean manufacturer will also deliver two new handsets based on the Series 60 platform from Nokia Corp.

The Vodafone manager also declined to comment on whether Vodafone, which had an exclusive agreement to launch Palm Inc.'s Treo smartphone in Europe, would offer a new version of the phone, to be announced on Wednesday.

"We are still in discussions with Palm to refresh that line-up," Schulte-Bokum said.

Palm also declined to comment.

Also missing from the pre-holiday product launch are handsets based on the Linux operating system. "We expect to offer Linux-based phones, but not until spring or early summer of 2008," Schulte-Bokum said, adding that the company is a founding member of the LiMo initiative, which aims to push the standardization and adoption of the open-source operating system on mobile phones.

In addition to the new handsets, Vodafone also plans to offer MusicStation, the music download service provided by Omnifone Ltd. Initially available only in the U.K., MusicStation will offer customers unlimited music downloads of more than 1 million titles directly to the internal memory or storage cards on their handsets for #1.99 (US$4.03 ) per week, said Tim Yates, chief marketing officer of Vodafone UK.

To keep prices low, Vodafone has chosen to limit service and not allow users to copy downloaded tunes to other devices, such as PCs, according to Al Russel, head of content services at Vodafone UK. Vodafone plans a premium service that, for an additional fee, will allow users to synchronize the content on their handsets with their PCs, he said.

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