They've been in overseas markets for at least two years, but most U.S. carriers have waited until this year to unleash phones with color displays. Color screens have spurred usage in Asia, where 90 percent of handsets now offer color. Every U.S. carrier is testing the concept on at least one phone.
The handsets are cool but pricey-between $200 and $500. Ira Brodsky, president of wireless research firm Datacomm, says that camera-equipped phones, multimedia messaging (basically, attaching a picture or a diagram that can be annotated) and multiuser games all benefit from color. But color isn't just for hobbyists: AT&T, Nextel and Verizon have all launched animated business-productivity applications for color screens. Nextel, for example, offers Java-based apps for contact organization, bid estimation and loan amortization. Verizon has BREW apps for tracking expenses and currency conversion.
A few animated applications come with most handsets; others are priced between $1 and $20 per download. But some are sold by subscription and count against your minute plan, so conduct desk research before buying.
Naturally, color screens increase your overall enjoyment of your phone as well. Brodsky expects color phones to be a hot holiday gift item and predicts that, by mid-2004, color will be standard on business and consumer handsets alike.
Erik P. Nelson is a technology writer in San Francisco and a frequent contributor to Entrepreneur.