STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Mobile phone companies are marketing ever fancier models equipped with video, music, email. And this summer, the snazziest of mobile phones known as smart phones will get smarter. NPR's Laura Sydell gives us a preview.
LAURA SYDELL: I walk into a Verizon store in downtown San Francisco and pretend I want to buy a phone with personalized features. I get questions.
Mr. MUKI LOK (Salesperson, Verizon Store): Where do you plan on using the phone?
SYDELL: All around, across the country…
Mr. LOK: Okay. So take me through a day of how a cell phone might benefit you.
SYDELL: I tell salesperson Muki Lok that I'm a soccer mom and that, yeah, I want to be able to text my kids and email my friends.
Mr. LOK: Do you want to be able to, like, open attachments for maybe emails?
SYDELL: If I say yes, he'll direct me to one set of phones. No, then to another set. There are a lot of phones in this store.
Mr. LOK: The enV2, the Smooth, the Sway, the BlackBerry Storm, the Curve, the Pearl, the…
SYDELL: There are dozens of cool names and features. In the last two years, the market for fancy mobile phones in the U.S. has exploded. Ramon Llamas, an analyst with research firm IDC, says the release of the iPhone two years ago was a catalyst - the sleek design, high-end mp3 player, camera, easy access to the Internet and the revolutionary touch-screen technology.
Mr. RAMON LLAMAS (Senior Research Analyst, IDC): And a lot of people said, you know, I like that touch screen. That's really cool. Well, you know, within less than six months' time, there are a number of other touch screens devices that are out there that pretty much, you know, capture the hearts and imaginations of a lot of folks too.
SYDELL: A decade ago, it was Palm that captured imaginations with its Pilot. But the company didn't keep up when phones and personal assistants merged. Palm is hoping to change its fortunes with the Pre. At their offices in Sunnyvale, Matt Crowley pulls out one for me to see. It fits, yes, nicely into the palm of his hand.
Mr. MATT CROWLEY (Product Line Manager, Palm): The overall design of Palm Pre was really based on a polished river stone.
SYDELL: The Pre takes into account one of the biggest criticisms of the iPhone, its touch screen keyboard.
Mr. CROWLEY: The whole design also slides open to show and reveal a keyboard with tactile buttons.
SYDELL: The Pre can keep several windows open at once. So you can type an email while looking at your calendar. The Pre is getting praise.
Mr. LLAMAS: And there is just something about it.
SYDELL: Again, analyst Ramon Llamas.
Mr. LAMEZ: You know, that is so sleek and so intuitive that people can say, you know what, that's kind of what I really want my device to do.
SYDELL: The iPhone and the BlackBerry dominate the market for what are aptly called smart phones. But if you ask around at this cafe in San Francisco, there is clearly room for other options. Jasper Gregory has an iPhone.
Mr. JASPER GREGORY (iPhone User): I don't really like it either.
Mr. GREGORY: No. It seems too breakable. I keep it tucked away, so it won't be stolen. I never hear it, so I'm not as connected anymore.
SYDELL: And Sara Skikney says her BlackBerry isn't necessarily better.
Ms. SARA SKIKNEY (BlackBerry User): It's not very user-friendly. Like, I can't figure out how to set up certain things that I think should be more accessible. Like, you have to dig through several lists to find different functionalities.
SYDELL: The attitude in this cafe is nothing like how people in Asia and Europe feel about their phones, says analyst Llamas. There, your phone is a personal statement.
Mr. LLAMAS: I kind of liken it to, you know, people bringing home, you know, a puppy or a cat saying, oh, you know, look at my new device, it's so cute. It's so - this is - check it out. You want to hold it, you want to pet it, you want to try it out.
SYDELL: They may not be puppies, but less than 14 percent of the people who purchased mobile phones last year got smart phones. That means there is a lot of potential new buyers for all the fancy phones coming out this summer.
Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco.