PHONE MAKERS GET DESIGN INSPIRATION FROM IPOD

But Buzz at CTIA Show Is Apple's Plan for New Calling Device

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LAS VEGAS (AdAge.com) -- Some major phone manufacturers are putting iPod look-alikes into the marketplace, while Apple is preparing to launch its own phone.

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At this week’s CTIA Wireless 2006 conference here, the South Korean consumer electronics giant LG launched the LG550, a flip phone whose central characteristic is a prominent circular touch wheel reminiscent of the iPod’s signature navigation device. The dial’s forward, reverse and play markers are identical to that of the iPod's, while the top indicator on the phone says “Mode” to iPod’s “Menu.”

Similar marketing strategy
The LG550 has a changeable faceplate that allows for a choice of colors, but otherwise has a creamy iPod-ish white finish. The marketing uses language and strategy similar to that created by Omnicom Group's TBWA/Chiat/Day for the iPod. An ad says the phone "looks, feels and plays music like a portable stereo." (Like an iPod, the LG550 can be used with a car’s speaker system.)

But the phone does have some added features that an iPod doesn’t: a camera, external flash memory and speech recognition. For an added kick, users can even compose their own ring tones.

Nokia, the world’s leading phone manufacturer, meanwhile, unveiled for the U.S. market an ultraslim device much like the iPod Nano. Both are less than an inch thin; Nokia's 7380 weighs in at 2.82 ounces, while Apple's Nano is a scant 1.5 ounces. The 7380's dominant design feature is a circular navigation device trademarked by Nokia as the Navi spinner.

A Nokia spokesman said it's not immitating Apple. "As for the Nano, while Nokia certainly appreciates the design that Apple did with their device, Nokia has its own unique design identity, and has no plans to ever mimic design of others. We are much more comfortable shaping design trends."

Apple's phone partner
Meanwhile, the floor at the trade show, which drew 40,000 attendees, was abuzz with talk that Apple is about to launch a phone in connection with new mobile virtual network operator Helio, a $440 million joint-venture between South Korea wireless carrier SK Telecom and Internet service provider Earthlink. At the show, a Helio spokesman said its phone would be launched via the Sprint and Verizon Wireless networks.

Apple did not return an e-mail for comment.

Last year, Apple teamed with Cingular Wireless and Motorola to come out with the iTunes Rokr; the phone has a 100-song capacity but its clunky form was far cry from that of the iPod. This year, Cingular and Motorola followed up with a sexier music phone, the Slvr.

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