From a cell phone with just six buttons to one that lets users dictate text messages and another that delivers the results of a breathalyzer test, mobile handset makers put their most eye-catching gadgets on display at this week's wireless industry conference.
Dozens of new handsets were unveiled at the 3GSM wireless conference, many sporting radical new designs and capabilities.
The main theme of this year's show, attended by more than 60,000 people, was the integration of programs such as instant messaging, blogs and mapping to blur the line between the computers and phones.
But some offerings targeted simpler needs.
Spain's Imaginarium showed off a small cell phone with just six buttons, all of them in bright green, red, blue and orange. The "Mo1" is aimed at children. There's no numerical keypad because all calls are restricted to the phone numbers a parent has programmed in. Plus, it can't be used for text messages other than to receive them from preapproved contacts or send a simple note to a parent, or guardian, telling them where the child and the phone are.
U.S.-based Nuance Communications Inc. displayed mobile applications of its speech recognition technology, Dragon's Naturally Speaking, where users can press a single button and use voice commands to get news, sports and other information. Another feature lets a person dictate an SMS and send it on its way. A person also can request directions from a navigation program or tell the phone's MP3 player what song to play.
"With more than 2.5 billion cell phones in use, and about 5 percent using speech recognition, we see an enormous untapped market," said the company's president, Steve Chambers.
One of the more unusual devices came from Japan's NTT DoCoMo. Simply put, it is a phone that delivers the results of a breathalyzer test along with real-time video of a driver.
The actual breathalyzer is not made by the Japanese wireless provider, but it links up to a handset that sends video of the person taking the test to a bus or taxi company's office to ensure there's no drunk driving.
For those tired of simple alphanumeric input for messaging, an Israeli company, Zlango, has offered up an entirely new language based on icons.
"It's made up of more than 200 icons that each means a word or concept," explained Raz Tsafrir of the company, which is currently offering the application in the Caribbean, Poland and Israel.
The user decides what to say by picking among the various icons. The software, which the company says can run on most any mobile phone, comes with a form of Rosetta stone to help translate the note for the recipient, who can then reply in Zlango as well.
Many of the industry's top companies showed off ways to integrate familiar Web-based applications with a cell phone, including the MySpace social networking site, the Flickr photo service and Google Maps.
"There are lots of possibilities for mobility now," said Lars Vestergaard of the research firm IDC, noting Nokia Corp.'s development of built-in satellite navigation capabilities in its new 6110 handset.
The Finnish company's application uses the GPS positioning capability in the phone to grab coordinates, then pulls down real-time, turn-by-turn navigation from the cellular network. It's expected to retail for about $300 in Europe starting in June. Other navigation devices were plentiful, with familiar brands like TomTom and Garmin showing off new devices as well.
Some handset makers were combining the elements of an entire laptop in a handheld.
HTC showed off the X7500, a flip-style phone with a 5-inch color screen that runs on Windows Mobile. It comes standard with TomTom's Navigator 6, a 3-megapixel camera, an 8-gigabyte hard drive and 128 megabytes of RAM, as well as connections to plug it into a computer monitor or television. While its keyboard is manageable for touch-typing, it has a USB port to plug in a larger one for easier use.
Priced at about 1,100 euros, or nearly $1,500, it's for those who take their mobility seriously.