Motion-Sensitive Phone Hints at Further Mobile Innovation

Vodafone’s Japanese unit plans to release a mobile phone next month that answers to motion commands, just the latest development in what analysts say will be an explosion of features for phones as carriers and cell phone makers look to push the envelope.

The new phones, made by Sharp and distributed by Vodafone, include a motion-control-sensor, a chip that recognizes and responds to movement. By moving phones in a certain way, users can access command menus to do everything from open e-mail to access stored games.

Vodafone has yet to announce pricing for the handset, which will be sold initially only in Japan.

Overcoming Limitations

For the time being, it might be seen mainly as a novelty, one that appeals to cutting-edge adopters and, especially, mobile gamers.

The motion system will already work with two mobile games — a golfing game from Taito and a Sega game in which the handset can be used to simulate shooting movements — and Vodafone said more are in the works. It can also be used to play music, a feature being targeted at karaoke fans.

Further developed, the motion detection feature could help overcome an often-cited limitation with mobile devices: the difficulty in using keypads, which are shrinking along with the devices themselves, to input commands, especially for complex transactions.

Indeed, analysts say the details of the phone and how it works is less important than the underlying message: That mobile carriers and cell phone makers are both eager to bring to market an array of new features in phones that could pave the way for advances in mobile commerce as using handsets becomes second nature.

Sign of the Times

Indeed, the Sharp/Vodafone linkup is just the latest partnership aimed at testing the market waters with unique mobile services and features. Recent partnerships hint at much more innovation, some of it practical in nature, some arguably outlandish, to come.

For instance, Motorola in recent weeks has announced separate partnerships with snowboard gear maker Burton and sunglass purveyor Oakley to make clothing and eyewear loaded with embedded wireless devices.

“Carriers and phone makers want the same thing — to get the most versatile phones into the hands of users so that they in turn use the most services they can,” Gartner analyst Ben Wood said. “Phone makers will continue to churn out basic handsets, but will always be looking to figure out where the next cutting edge tool is going to be.”

Advanced handsets can open up a huge menu of value-added services for carriers, from streaming music and news to more advanced mobile commerce applications.

Though mobile, or m-commerce, has been envisioned by analysts and trend watchers since the peak of the Internet boom in the late 1990s, most believe the hype will eventually be borne out by reality. They point to converging trends as proof, including rapidly expanding use of cell phones and increased comfort with online commerce, especially among younger consumers.

Making It Safe

However, most analysts say getting mobile commerce into the mainstream will require answering tough security questions. This year, phones with built-in biometrics features, such as fingerprint readers, which are aimed at answering the main security questions lingering around m-commerce, are being widely rolled out in Japan, China and Europe, with arrival in the U.S. in coming years.

Developing trust in the security levels of mobile devices would be a key to unlocking additional uses, such as the myriad mobile commerce applications envisioned.

For instance, electronic tickets purchased in advance for events could be sent to cell phones, which could then be used to gain entry. Or handsets could become debit or credit devices, enabling communication between a bank and a merchant. However, all that would require consumers to trust that the purchase would be safe and the tickets secure on the mobile devices, Sophos security consultant Graham Cluley said.

“There is a generation of users coming up that’s comfortable with the security of hand-held devices and will use them widely for any number of transactions,” Cluley told the E-Commerce Times. “But given the difficulties of securing desktops, true mobile security is more of a challenge in the long run.”

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