CTIA Preview: iPhone Wannabes and More - TheStreet

The annual CTIA Wireless IT and Entertainment show kicks off next week in San Francisco, and I've already got in mind the cell-phone products and devices I expect and hope to see at the big industry event.

Technology journalists from around the world will converge next Wednesday on the Moscone Center for event, which comes at an interesting time for the cell-phone industry. Cell phone sales, worldwide, are not as red-hot as they once were. Just ask

Nokia

(NOK) - Get Report

. And

Sony Ericsson

. And, of course,

Motorola

(MOT)

.

Now

Apple

(AAPL) - Get Report

is leading the way. Despite the problems it's having with getting

AT&T's

(T) - Get Report

3G service to millions of new iPhone 3G customers, Apple has one of the hottest properties in the industry (priced $199-$299). And rightly so: iPhone has the best user interface on the planet.

But, consider the Samsung Instinct phone from

Sprint

(S) - Get Report

. It's an iPhone clone that is selling amazingly well -- probably because, at $129, it's a well-priced alternative to the iPhone, especially for Sprint customers.

Same for the

Palm

(PALM)

Centro. At $99 (with a two-year service contract), Centro has also become a huge hit. See a trend here? It's not hard to figure out. American consumers don't like spending more than 100 bucks on a cell phone. The Centro was, and still is, priced exactly right. Sprint's Instinct is a little pricier -- but is still less costly than Apple's iPhone 3G.

These days, every other phone on the market has to be compared to these three smartphones in some way or another. Either the new phones have far fewer smartphone features than an iPhone/Instinct/Centro and must be priced accordingly. Or, they have "luxury" features (higher-resolution cameras, diamond-studded covers, built-in HD movie cameras) and therefore must be priced much higher than an iPhone/Instinct/Centro.

And that's assuming one of the big-four cellular providers (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile,

Verizon

(VZ) - Get Report

) agree to sell the phone and help subsidize the selling price. Otherwise, these other super phones have to be sold "unlocked" at artificially high prices. The fantastic new

Palm Treo Pro

is one such victim of these exclusionary practices.

Palm Gets Down to Business With Treo Pro

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We're hoping to see some of the newest designs from

Research In Motion

(RIMM)

at the show. We've showed you sneak peeks of the new Blackberry Bold -- coming any day now. But, we also expect to see the new Blackberry flip-phone (being described as a Pearl phone with a cover) and, of course, the eagerly awaited Blackberry touch-screen design.

I'm also hoping to get a glimpse at the first of many Android OS-based designs. I'm hoping that the first

Google

(GOOG) - Get Report

phone, rumored to be coming to market in the fourth quarter on T-Mobile's brand-spanking new 3G network, will make an appearance at the show. It's probably one of the most eagerly awaited handset releases in recent years. If it has a fast processor, good memory handling and is priced just right, the Google phone could match-up very well against the iPhone.

And we'll be checking to see what has happened to some of the other super smartphone designs we were promised at shows earlier this year. Remember Sony Ericsson's X1? According to recent reports the company's first Windows Mobile-based device is still on track for release later this year.

Smart Phones Photo gallery

And whatever happened to

Garmin's

(GRMN) - Get Report

nuvifone? When we last saw it -- February in Barcelona and early April in Las Vegas -- it was kept under glass, a hands-off presentation that earned it the nickname of "pheasant phone."

And now that all the biggies here are busy rolling out and improving their 3G data networks, I'm guessing we'll be hearing a lot about the next-generation -- or 4G data networks of the future. Between WiMAX -- heavily touted by

Intel

(INTC) - Get Report

, Nokia and others -- and LTE -- about to go into major testing in China -- I'm sure there will be a lot to learn about the "next big thing" for cell phones.

Finally, although there might not be a new cell-phone announcement from Apple, the company is planning a big San Francisco event on Sept. 9 -- possibly to introduce a new, fourth-generation iPod nano.

Whew! Looks like this is going to be a very busy trip.

Gary Krakow is TheStreet.com's senior technology correspondent.