3D smartphones: Godsend or gimmick?

Thanks to Sprint and AT&T's latest products, 3D smartphones are looming large for telecom investors.

By TheStreet Staff Mar 29, 2011 2:20PM

By James Rogers, TheStreet


Not so long ago, the mere sight of a 4G smartphone would be enough to get a gadgethead's heart racing. Now, with 4G smartphones ready to flood the market, companies like AT&T (T) and Sprint (S) are looking to push the envelope by adding 3D technology to their phones in an effort to woo consumers and developers away from the Apple (AAPL) iPhone juggernaut.


Last week, at the CTIA International Wireless show, telecom giants were mercilessly beating the 3D drum. Sprint's Evo 3D, built by HTC, and AT&T's LG Thrill 4G, hit the market later this year.


The big question, though, is whether 3D smartphones are the next big thing . . . or simply the next big gimmick.

Avian Securities analyst Matt Thornton told TheStreet that 3D is a way for service providers and phone makers to add a little something extra.


"My impression is that it's a little bit gimmicky, but that's not a bad thing," he said, adding that the Evo 3D, in particular, could continue Sprint's 4G momentum. "It's a way to differentiate -- anything that makes you stand out."


Sprint is, understandably, bullish on 3D, touting mobile devices as the best way to bring the technology into the mainstream. "The Evo 3D performs like a PC and provides a multimedia experience second to none," said Dan Hesse, Sprint's CEO, during the company's press event last week in Orlando.


For its part, AT&T told TheStreet that 3D smartphones are ideally suited to the gaming community, offering a much richer visual experience than current smartphones.


Avian's Thornton, however, warned that we are still a way from seeing 3D as a standard smartphone feature and that there are still relatively few films and games that are 3D capable for handheld devices. "It's nice to have 3D, but you need to have content to consume on that device," he explained. "From what I understand, there's not a lot out there to take advantage of 3D."


One must wonder, though, what would happen if Apple, famous for recreating tired markets, embraced the technology.

"I am sure that it is on their whiteboard -- I just haven't heard anything yet," said Avian's Thornton. "If you're Apple, to put hardware into a device just for the sake of putting hardware in, doesn't make sense -- it weighs on your margins."


"If I was to put myself in Apple's shoes with 3D, I think it may be about the availability of content," he added.


At last year's CTIA, Avatar director James Cameron boldly predicted that 3D would be the next big frontier in consumer technology, explaining that high-speed 4G networks are a gateway to 3D services. This prediction could be coming true, albeit slowly. It's likely to be some time before 3D technology stamps its presence into the mobile market.


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