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Verizon unveils wireless retriever

Cell phone contacts find their way into new phones for $1.99 a month--without the thumb strain.

For those abruptly parted with their cell phones, Verizon Wireless will make your world a lot less thumb-strained for $1.99 a month.

Cell phone lost? Stolen? Left on a bus? Regardless, it's gone. Making matters worse is the chore of transferring all that contact information onto your new phone. Usually, it has to be done by hand on cramped phone keypads designed for dialing numbers, not writing e-mail addresses.

Verizon Wireless said Wednesday it now will store updated copies of all that contact information for you, and make it available to seven models of phones as an over-the-air download. It also lets you update the information on the phone using any Web-connected personal computer.

The result, Verizon says, is a whole lot less manual labor to set up your new phone, or maintain your existing one. Alex Bloom, Verizon Wireless associate director of programming, said Verizon Wireless is one of the first carriers to test how much their subscribers will pay for just such a convenience. The chore of re-entering contact data discourages some people from upgrading--or from bothering with the effort to retype. "A lot of people think putting all that information back onto a phone isn't worth it," he said.

Services like the one Verizon Wireless expanded Wednesday are of a new generation created for an old reason: to find new revenue sources because the price of phone calls, a carrier's staple product, keeps dropping due to competitive pressure.

Typically, cell phone downloads have been rudimentary applications, like Instant Messaging, ring tones or downloading 15-second videos. But more complex ones, such as downloading new pieces of vital phone software, are made possible by a new generation of phones with much more processing power.