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Alltel Debuts New UI

Aiming to further distinguish itself from its larger rivals, Alltel Corp. (NYSE: AT) today will debut a new mobile-phone user interface, called "Celltop," that it says will change the way users interact with content on their handsets.

Essentially large-format, user-friendly graphic interface that provides instant access to content and applications, Celltop can be customized using 10 different "cells" or fields that include sports (basketball, football, baseball, and rodeo, to start with), incoming messages, weather info, and so on.

Rodeo?

"What we've found is that self-discovery is the name of the game," says Scott Moody, Alltel's director of multimedia services. "Getting people to discover all the content on their phones is the biggest challenge for us as a carrier."

While its customer base is significantly smaller than the Big 4 U.S. wireless carriers (Cingular Wireless , Verizon Wireless , Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S), and T-Mobile US Inc. ), Alltel has succeeded by shedding its wireline business altogether, making canny acquisitions, and going after customers in underserved rural markets, particularly in the Southeast. The company also sells wholesale rural coverage to Cingular and to Sprint. (See Alltel's Circle Widens .)

Alltel has heavily pushed its popular "My Circle" calling plan, which features unlimited calling to 10 phone numbers. T-Mobile USA introduced a similar plan last year.

The Celltop feature, which will be included free on all Samsung TG phones from Alltel, is designed to extend the company's efforts to provide flexibility and ease of use to its customers.

"Our watchwords for 2007 are 'choice' and 'control,' " says Moody. "We were the first U.S. carrier to launch XM Radio on our handsets, the first to give our users podcasting capability on their mobile phones, and Celltop is really a continuation of our moves into innovative features."

The Celltop screen will be accessed via a softkey on the phone's initial "idle" screen -- the company chose not to make it the startup screen because "we didn't want to be presumptuous" and force users to adopt the new interface, says Moody. The initial set of 10 cells was developed by Alltel, but the company expects outside applications developers in the BREW community to create new applications that will run in Celltop.

"We feel like the BREW developer community will really make Celltop what it will become," explains Moody. "They'll be much more creative than we can be as a carrier."

Austin, Tex.-based Frog Design collaborated on the design and implementation of Celltop, which makes use of the modular concept trailblazed by "widgets" on personal computer desktops.

Frog?

One thing the interface does not do is allow users to selectively scroll through their voicemails, rather than having to listen to them in sequence -- a feature on the new iPhone from Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) that got raves from early reviewers.

Alltel says that Celltop will come installed on all its phone models by the end of this year.

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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