Mobile Products to Watch in 2008, Part 1

As tempting as Apple's iPhone and Amazon.com's Kindle are, I've refrained from buying them. Why? Because I'm certain these first-generation products will be significantly better in their second iterations.

Several intriguing products debuted or were announced in 2007. Here's a look back at some of them--as well as a look forward at what's likely to be their second-generation models.

Apple's iPhone

I had my reasons for not buying the first iPhone. Price was one--the initial $599 cost for the 8GB model felt like extortion. Of course, Apple lowered the price to $399 about two months after the iPhone's introduction, which prompted some justifiable outrage. That incident alone is an excellent example of why you should think twice about buying a first-gen product.

Other turn-offs for me: The iPhone uses AT&T's slow EDGE network for cellular wireless Internet connections, as opposed to the company's faster 3G network; it has only 8GB of storage, which is a lot for a phone, but not much for a portable media player; there's a paucity of third-party applications; the device can't record video recording; and AT&T is the sole iPhone provider in the U.S.

A second-gen iPhone, expected in 2008, is likely to address many of these concerns. AT&T's CEO Randall Stephenson has already announced that a 3G iPhone would be forthcoming in 2008, though he didn't give a specific date.

It stands to reason the next iPhone will also offer more storage capacity. And some rumors are circulating online that Apple will refresh the first-gen iPhone during the first half of 2008 with more memory.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs has already announced the company will release a software developer's kit in February 2008, to encourage third parties to develop native apps for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

As for video recording, there's been no official word. But several unofficial efforts are already under way to add this feature to current iPhones. Take a look at a video on Traveler 2.0.

Regarding the iPhone's ties to AT&T, Apple reportedly signed a multi-year exclusivity agreement with the wireless carrier, so we aren't likely to see iPhones for Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile anytime soon. But the iPhone has aroused consumer unrest around the whole business of cell phone companies locking devices to work only on their own networks.

Meanwhile, Google--a champion of "open access" networks--is developing a mobile phone platform to compete with Apple's. Google is also expected to bid on blocks of the wireless 700-MHz spectrum that the FCC is auctioning beginning on January 24. According to the FCC's rules, whoever licenses this spectrum must allow any devices to connect to their network.

Amazon.com's Kindle

Amazon.com took a leap forward with its $399 Kindle e-book reader. The device, introduced in November, allows you to wirelessly download e-books from Amazon.com using Sprint's 3G network. No contracts or charges are required to use the network. You can also pay to subscribe to Kindle-compatible versions of newspapers, magazines, and blogs, which are automatically downloaded to the device. If you haven't seen a Kindle, take a look at our video.

The Kindle has much to recommend, says our reviewer, Melissa J. Perenson. But there are some design flaws that, if Amazon.com is smart, will disappear in the second-gen device. Among them: The Kindle can be slow to respond to button presses, such as when you flip ahead several pages; it has a monochrome-only screen; and the navigation software is straightforward has some search limitations.

For its second act, I'm hoping the Kindle will offer a color screen, a lower price ($250 to $300 for an e-book reader feels more reasonable), and faster response to buttons. Also, some reviewers have complained it's too easy to accidentally press the page-forward and back buttons--another design issue that should be addressed.

Check back next week for three more products to watch for in 2008.

Further Exploration

Mobile Computing News, Reviews, & Tips

Geek Chic Wi-Fi T-Shirt: Though it's too late for Christmas, Think Geek's black Wi-Fi Detector T-shirt ($30) could certainly make a gag gift. The shirt has blue bars on the front that illuminate when you're near a wireless network. The stronger the signal, the more bars that light up. The detector can be removed for washing and is powered by three AAA batteries. Just remember to turn off your T-shirt when you go to the movies.

Enhancing and Securing a Wi-Fi Network: Our "In Pictures" guide will help you get more out of a Wi-Fi connection, whether it's at home, office, or on the road. Example: Public hotspots are notoriously unsecured. If you use them often, consider downloading and installing AnchorFree's free Hotspot Shield virtual private network software.

Tech Gear Coming Soon: PC World Contributing Editor Dan Tynan gazes into the crystal ball and sees more devices than ever connecting to the Internet, a la the iPod Touch and Archos 605 media players and the Chumby. What's that, you ask? You need to see for yourself.

Suggestion Box

Is there a particularly cool mobile computing product or service I've missed? Got a spare story idea in your back pocket? Tell me about it. However, I regret that I'm unable to respond to tech-support questions, due to the volume of e-mail I receive.

Contributing Editor James A. Martin offers tools, tips, and product recommendations to help you make the most of computing on the go. Martin is also author of the Traveler 2.0 blog. Sign up to have the Mobile Computing Newsletter e-mailed to you each week.
  
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