Can Instinct Save Sprint Nextel?

Las Vegas is hosting the biggest wireless show in the U.S., and there's always a splashy story out of the annual event. The latest one is whether a new touchscreen Samsung phone called Instinct can help Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S  ) pull out of its funk and stem the flow of customers to competitors AT&T (NYSE: T  ) and Verizon Wireless, a joint venture between Verizon Communications (NYSE: VZ  ) and Vodafone (NYSE: VOD  ) .

The Instinct -- which will be launched exclusively with Sprint Nextel in June -- looks strikingly similar to the Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iPhone that has helped partner AT&T poach millions of subscribers over the past nine months. The device even sports some improved features, such as built-in global positioning (GPS) capability and true broadband connectivity.

While Sprint wouldn't reveal the price of the device, management has hinted that it will be significantly cheaper than the iPhone -- unless, of course, Steve Jobs decides to slash the price again. One caveat, though, is that Sprint will require those who purchase the device to choose one of its latest unlimited plans that all the major carriers are now pushing.

Like the iPhone, the Instinct will target a higher-end consumer or business user looking for a phone with all the features. Those are certainly the kind of customers Sprint would like to keep -- and earn back. But in my opinion, the device won't help with the issue of Nextel subscribers leaving in droves, which is the real problem Sprint is dealing with. So even if this new product is a real hit, it wouldn't pull Sprint from the abyss by itself.

But with all the focus on Sprint, one significant point is being missed: If the Instinct does manage to captivate millions, it would help Samsung cement its No. 2 spot behind top phone maker Nokia (NYSE: NOK  ) , kicking more dirt on third-place Motorola (NYSE: MOT  ) . And whether or not it would put a dent in the iPhone's allure is another question altogether -- one that depends on what Apple delivers in the next-generation iPhone.

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