Outdoing the iPhone

Bloomberg News
It was tough to watch Steve Jobs dangle the Apple iPhone before everyone's eyes, and tougher to learn it wouldn't enter Russia at least until the end of 2007.

But with LG's Prada phone, the Samsung F700 and Meizu's miniOne, iPhone can be easily replaced as the apple of thine eye.

But first, how does a phone become an iPhone -- and one that I want?

In addition to basic phone calls, voicemail and SMS functions, this 1.15 by 6.1 by 11.5 centimeter, glistening sliver of aluminum is also a music player, camera and Internet communicator, with e-mail, Google and Yahoo! searches and widgets.

The iPhone's highlight is a 8.89-centimeter diagonal, 320 by 480 resolution interface with a keypad, but coming after touchscreen models from Ericsson, HTC and Nokia, this is nothing new.

The screen, however, is multitouch-sensitive -- a feature that distinguished it from two touch-screen debutantes by LG Electronics and Samsung at the February 3GSM Congress in Barcelona -- allowing users to interact with it using more than one point of contact at once.

But just as iPhone is all these things, there are also many that it's not: It's not 3G, which denies users a high-speed Internet connection, and a 3G version won't appear till 2008 at the earliest. For a device entering a market that is updating to third-generation mobile technology, this is not only anachronistic, but also ­disappointing.

While it runs Mac's operating system, it's impossible to replace applications beyond what already exists. Without a removable battery, the iPhone's energy cell, like in iPod's, can only be replaced at an Apple service center.

But beyond the pros and cons, here's a better question: Do Russians really want it?

Bloomberg News
Samsung's F700: an iPhone alternative.
Consumers won't be surprised at glistening new Mac wares the way U.S. audiences are, especially since, as IDC Russia mobile devices research analyst Ksenia Kirsanova said, they are more familiar with available alternative brands such as LG and Samsung. If iPod culture didn't catch on, asked Yevroset press secretary Ochir Mandzhikov, why should the iPhone?

While this digital candy is an attractive product, Kirsanova said its potential market share depends on the price. And signs say the price will not be right.

By its June release in the United States, the 4 and 8 gigabyte phones will fetch $499 and $599, respectively. And since iPods are consistently more expensive in Russia compared with the United States and Europe -- the iPod nano, for example, retails for almost twice the U.S. price -- the iPhone, said Mandzhikov, will cost more.

Already, other handset makers have established themselves as leaders.

Commanding almost 89 percent of Russia's mobile phone market are Nokia (25.1 percent), Samsung (21 percent), Motorola (16.4 percent), BenQ-Siemens (14.1 percent) and Sony Ericsson (12.1 percent).

Soon four phones similar to the iPhone -- the LG Prada KE850, Samsung F700, Meizu M8 and Motorola ROKR E6 -- are to appear in Russia. The Samsung is to be released in the early summer, LG and Motorola in May, and Meizu in 2008.

Because all these phones are from the same $500 category and with very similar specs, said Kirsanova, each one's popularity will depend on how their PR managers sell, sell, sell.

The LG Prada and Samsung were both showcased alongside the iPhone at the 3GSM Congress as wide-screen interface trendsetters -- but with better potential.

Samsung's hardware form mimics iPhone, with a touch screen much smaller at 7.11 centimeters, but also in higher resolution at 440 by 240. It opens to reveal a real keypad, imitating but going one step short of HTC's Vox phone, which has a standard mobile phone numerical keypad plus an additional QWERTY typing pad when slid open. Still, this makes the F700 a one-up on iPhone's on-screen interface that, without physical keys, is more difficult to negotiate.

And unlike the iPhone, the F700 it is fully 3G-compatible.

LG's lookalike -- or the other way around, as has been claimed -- won the 2007 Product Design Award at the International Forum Design and is at once a phone, video player and photo camera. The KE850 comes with an Internet browser that uses EDGE, or enhanced GPRS technology, and the user can connect to any wireless network.

Meizu, a Chinese maker of color-screen MP3 players, has come up with what has become known as the iPhone clone, called the miniOne. With an 8.38-centimeter touchscreen, it runs Microsoft software and is connectable to GSM networks.

Unfortunately, Russia will have to wait until the Meizu M8's January or February 2008 release date, said a marketing representative, who declined to be identified, from the company's headquarters in Zhuhai, Guangdong province.

Motorola's ROKR E6, which until the removal of iTunes from its design was the most similar model to iPhone, will appear in June, said Kirill Lubnin, a representative of Motorola's Moscow office. And indeed, ROKR's specs are a good match, with email, web browsing, Bluetooth wireless connectivity, music and video playback, document viewing and of course, a 6.09 centimeter touchscreen.