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Sprint ID service expanding to smartphones, tablets

Mobile phones connect people in dire need with services that can change their lives, Amy Gahran says.
Mobile phones connect people in dire need with services that can change their lives, Amy Gahran says.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sprint aims to ease the setup process with Sprint ID
  • Sprint providing preconfigured packages of apps, wallpaper, icons, ringtones, etc.
  • Packs are free to download and install, but users are charged for premium content
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Editor's note: Amy Gahran writes about mobile tech for CNN.com. She is a San Francisco Bay Area writer and media consultant whose blog, Contentious.com, explores how people communicate in the online age.

(CNN) -- Android smartphones can do a lot, but unless you're already an Android power user or enjoy configuring a sophisticated device, getting set up on your first Android phone is probably a bit of an ordeal.

Speaking from experience, it's definitely not as simple or straightforward as getting started with your first iPhone.

Sprint aims to ease the setup process with Sprint ID, a service launched this month for the carrier's new mid-range Android phones.

In a nutshell, Sprint is providing preconfigured packages of apps, wallpaper, icons, ringtones and premium content (through partnerships with major media brands).

Sprint ID packs are free to download and install, but users are charged for premium content and features delivered through those packs. Users can customize their own phones further, and you can load up to to five Sprint ID packs on a device.

This may sound limiting to experienced smartphone users, but it's probably a good enough starting point for most beginning Android users, especially if you just got your first-ever phone that goes beyond what a basic feature phone or messaging phone can do.

As a Sprint news release notes: "According to the Pew Research Center, more than one third of US adults own smartphones, but three out of four of those owners don't use many of the smartphone's features. It's not because they don't want apps that are cool or make their lives easier; it's because finding the right content is simply too confusing, time consuming or even intimidating."

Phonescoop is reporting that Sprint is also rolling out the Sprint ID service for higher-end Android devices -- specifically the Samsung Epic 4G and the forthcoming Samsung Galaxy tablet.

It probably would have to come up with far more sophisticated packages to make this service compelling to users of those devices. We'll see what emerges on this front.

The Sprint ID concept is intriguing. Basically, it's selling "skins" for Android devices. In this case, the purpose is to ease the less-experienced user's setup process and overall experience. But skins for Android devices can serve many purposes for all kinds of users. And the more the device can do, the greater the opportunities for creating compelling skins that integrate a wide range of content and functions.

Sprint views Sprint ID not just as a service for the packs it decides to offer, but a platform through which others can create and offer their own custom Android skins.

These could be sold or given away either to the general public or a select group of users, such as fans of a particular band or team, or employees of a large company.

The October 12 episode of "The Cell Phone Junkie Unlocked" podcast included an interview at CTIA with a Sprint representative who explained that the Sprint ID platform basically allows developers to create custom collections of applications, widgets and other tools to serve specific user groups.

For instance, many large companies already provide smartphones for their employees.

The IT or telecom department of a large company like FedEx or Merrill Lynch might use Sprint ID to deploy an Android skin for its employees that would include access to in-house proprietary tools or information. Employees could activate the job-related skin during the workday, then switch to a personal skin (or no skin) when off-duty.

This week's Sprint Developer Conference included several sessions that focus on Sprint ID, so expect to see the list of available public and proprietary Sprint ID packs expanding significantly in coming months.

Sprint hasn't yet specified how it will choose those it will allow to create Sprint ID packs. I doubt this carrier's platform would be wide open to any developer for any purpose, like the Android App Market. Also, Sprint ID packs are, of course, available only to Sprint customers, but Android devices are now available on every carrier.

Maybe alternative Android skin platforms might arise, and they might be open, rather than tied to specific wireless carriers. Android Central speculated that this strategy may "spell doom" for phone manufacturers' custom Android user interfaces like HTC Sense or Samsung Touchwiz.

What if you could get an Android skin for the city where you live, or for particular news venues, or organizations that you support? Why not an Android skin for Denver residents, or Texas Republicans, or stock traders, or people who track bills in Congress, or the BBC, or the Natural Resources Defense Council, or Presbyterians?

Right now, there are smartphone apps to serve these communities -- but apps aren't everything.

A custom skin could allow you to integrate mobile web bookmarks, widgets, messaging services, ticker-style updates and more in one experience that you could turn on and off at will on your phone.

It'll be interesting to see how this concept develops and spreads.

[TECH: NEWSPULSE]

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