On Call: Hanging up on 2008

On Call takes a look back at the year in cell phones.

Kent German Former senior managing editor / features
Kent was a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and worked in both the London and San Francisco offices. When not working, he's planning his next vacation, walking his dog or watching planes land at the airport (yes, really).
Kent German
4 min read

Though many people dread the approach of the holidays, I relish them. And it's not because I have a thing for eggnog (except when it's served with brandy). Rather, the arrival of December means the end of the very busy fall phone season. Between Labor Day and Thanksgiving, most manufacturers release a torrent of new phones in preparation for the holiday-shopping season. Though it's certainly interesting to see all the new models companies like Samsung, Nokia, and LG have to offer, following all those phones can be a little exhausting. Now, with CNET's holiday break just a week away, I have the time to reflect on what this year brought us in the world of cell phones. And be sure to tell me what you saw this year, as well.

The iPhone 3G made big news. Corinne Schulze/CBS Interactive

iPhone 3G and T-Mobile G1
Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't lead off with the two biggest phones of the year: the iPhone 3G and the T-Mobile G1. Though the 3G version didn't quite reach the stratospheric hype of its predecessor, buyers still stood in line at Apple and AT&T stores on its July 11 release date. And despite some well-publicized problems with dropped calls and shaky 3G connections, buyers still flocked to buy the iPhone; Apple sold 5 million handsets in the third quarter alone. Apple continues to add new features through software updates, and I'm excited to see what 2009 will bring. I just hope one of the new features is something basic like multimedia messaging. And speaking of Apple, MacWold 2009 is only a couple of weeks away. We may just see an iPhone Nano.

The G1 put power in the hands of consumers. Corinne Schulze/CBS Interactive

The G1 came a few months later on October 22. Though its design wasn't quite as slick as Apple's device, the G1 is more than notable in its own right. As I said in a previous column, the Android platform offers a new way to think about the cell phone industry. Instead of a carrier or a manufacturer controlling how you use the phone and what applications you can add, Android and the G1 give that power to users. Unlike with Apple and the iPhone, Google doesn't require developers to submit their applications for approval. And once developers are in the Android community, they can be kicked out only for malicious software. Such policies go a long way toward making the G1 more like a computer than a cell phone--in other words, a device that you can customize as you wish.

The Storm got mixed reviews. Corinne Schulze/CBS Interactive

Touch screens
If there was any cell phone design trend in 2008, it was the touch screen. Sure, touch handsets have been around for a long time, but the iPhone helped make them mainstream. In the latter half of the year, we saw a long list of touch-screen phones, including four models from Verizon, the nifty Motorola Krave ZN4, and the first touch-screen BlackBerry. Though some of the phones didn't pull the feature off well--the RIM BlackBerry Storm being the prime example--touch screens aren't going anywhere. In 2009, I imagine we will see many more such models, including more basic phones with touch displays and full HTML browsers. I also imagine that CES 2009 will show us a few models to kick off the year.

Messaging phones were a big trend in 2008, particularly during the fall phone season. Perhaps their popularity is a sign that the United States has finally discovered texting. I imagine that we'll see that trend continue in 2009, as well.

The Moto ZN5 was a hit. Nicole Lee/CBS Interactive

Spiffy camera phones
In 2008 we also saw a new crop of cool camera phones, as the number of megapixels continued to creep up. Though most of the handsets were unlocked models not offered by a U.S. carrier, the 5-megapixel Motoroloa Zine ZN5 landed at T-Mobile. Armed with Wi-Fi for easy uploading and a cool set of camera features, the ZN5 made it on our Best cell phones of 2008 list and it beat the 8-megapixel Samsung Innov8 in a Prizefight.

The Bold emerged as one of the best smartphones of 2008. Corinne Schulze/CBS Interactive

Just ask smartphone guru Bonnie Cha and you'll know that 2008 delivered on smartphones. Besides the aforementioned Storm, other notable smartphones included the RIM BlackBerry Bold, the Sony Ericsson Xperia X1, the Samsung Omnia, the Nokia E71, and the HTC Touch Diamond. She covered those handsets in her slide show of the top smartphones of the year.

What other cell phone trends did you see in 2008? And what are you excited for in 2009?

Kent German, CNET's cell phones guru, answers your questions about cell phones, services, and accessories and reports on the state of the industry. Send him a question.