2010: Time to get smart, Vail Valley?
VAIL, Colorado – This could be the year to get smart, Vail Valley – and without paying out-of-state tuition to do it.Just this month, both AT&T and Verizon Wireless – the major cell phone companies in the Vail Valley – announced price drops on their unlimited talk plans from roughly $99.99 per month to $69.99. The price cuts match the price both companies charge for the data service required to run “smart” phones such as the Blackberry, Apple’s iPhone and the new Droid phone that meshes with all kinds of Google services and applications.That means smart phone service now costs what an unlimited voice plan alone used to. Both companies are betting the new, lower prices drive more people to buy these high-end devices.Anita Denboske, founder of Active Communications, an AT&T store said the rise of the smart phone can be traced directly to the iPhone’s release a few years ago.”Before the iPhone, all anyone wanted was free phones,” Denboske said. “Now, people want to know what a phone can do and how fast it can do it.”Matt Thompson of Mountain Communications, also an AT&T store, said smart phones – once limited to high-powered business people who needed to be in constant touch with their offices – have filtered down to people who use them for everything from updating their Facebook pages or Twitter feeds to linking with home computers and entertainment systems.Thompson’s living proof of that theory – his favorite application, or app, for his Blackberry is Pandora, a program that allows users to stream music to their phones and creates a kind of smart radio based on a user’s favorite artists.Apps a-plentyWhile manufacturers will always bring out new gadgets for their phones, Thompson believes it’s software that will really lure people to smart devices.At the moment, the undisputed king of apps is the iPhone, with more than 100,000 available. The Blackberry, still by far the best-selling phone, has a few thousand apps and there are about 20,000 available for the Droid.Those apps range from the useful to the ridiculous and from free to exorbitant – the iPhone once had a $2,000 app that just displayed a shimmering gem. But Thompson believes that as applications continue to come on the market, many share one main goal – making the Internet work better on a phone.While apps will likely get much of the attention from users, there are still several products coming to a store or Web site near you this year.From a pure “check this out” perspective, LG has just started selling a phone that has a tiny video projector as an accessory.Thompson said he’s seen the gadget work, and isn’t all that impressed, for now.”It seems like that technology’s about where cameras were a few years ago,” he said.Still, it’s fun to think about the prospect of downloading video and playing it on an apartment wall. Maybe in a couple of years …Network warsPeople in the market for just about any mobile phone these days are getting at least some benefit from one of the hottest wars in American business right now. It’s hard to miss the battling ads between Verizon and AT&T.Verizon spokesman Bob Kelley referred frequently to his company’s coverage area for smart phone service, which, if the maps on the TV ads are to be believed, is vastly larger than AT&Ts.In fact, when asked about the apps available for the Droid at the moment, Kelley said, in essence, that apps don’t matter if you don’t have service.AT&T counters Verizon’s map with its own ads touting the speed of its service and what it will and won’t let users do.Locally, though, we all know where the service holes are. Denboske said AT&T has made progress – she said her new Blackberry won’t drop calls in the former hole between Wilmore Lake west of Edwards and the west end of Red Canyon near Eagle. She also said that AT&T is working to improve coverage in other parts of the valley, too, such as Chatfield Corners in Gypsum.And, ultimately, no matter what kind of apps are available, it’s important to remember that these are still phones.”People still like to talk,” Denboske said.Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.