CTIA Wireless 2010

The CTIA Wireless 2010 show was recently held in Las Vegas. It is the biggest wireless trade show of the year in North America bringing together wireless hardware manufacturers, software developers,  service providers, industry experts, and pretty much anyone that is involved with wireless. A team from Aumnia, including myself, was there to preview the latest wireless handsets, gadgets, software and market trends. The conference was smaller than previous years highlighting the fact that the industry and the economy in general is still recovering but the activity on the show floor was busy which was a good sign.

Google’s Android OS had a huge presence at this show. Almost every handset manufacturer  showcased a phone running Android. Over 20 new Android handsets were announced during the course of the show. It seemed like Android was turning many handset manufacturers, who previously never had much success in the smartphone market, into serious contenders overnight.

The most impressive smartphone that I saw at the show this year was the Samsung Galaxy S running Android 2.1. In terms of usability, speed, and responsiveness there are not many smartphones that are better than the iPhone, in fact, I personally don’t think there are any at the moment. The Motorola Droid was good and the HTC Nexus One comes very close and if I was an iPhone user (which I am not) wanting to switch to Android, that would be the one to go with…until now. The Samsung Galaxy S is definitely the best Android phone that I have seen to date. The device is fast and super responsive. And the AMOLED screen is amazingly sharp allowing playback of 720p videos. If I were to get an Android phone, this would be the one and it should be available later this summer.

Samsung Galaxy S

Samsung Galaxy S

The other big take away from the show was that all the major carriers in North America were upgrading their networks to 4th generation technology allowing for faster data speeds. There are two competing 4G technologies: WiMAX and LTE. With theoretical speeds of greater than 100Mb/s, DSL and Cable internet providers will have some serious competition. Sprint is currently ahead of the game with 4G deployments in many cities across the USA using WiMAX because unlike LTE, WiMAX hardware is commercially available. WiMAX has already been deployed in many countries worldwide. LTE is newer but with Cisco recently announcing that it will not build WiMAX hardware and AT&T and Verizon both choosing LTE, it looks like LTE (at least in North America) will be the 4G technology of choice.

2010 will be an exciting year for wireless. It will be a big year for Android and I’m looking forward to seeing how Apple responds to this with their new iPhone. It’s great to see companies push each other to the limit in terms of innovation because as consumers, we all benefit from this, no matter what smartphone OS you prefer to use. With 4G networks becoming a reality, I see a trend for more devices that will allow you to share your data connection over WiFi across multiple devices (laptop, netbook, iPad, and even your phone). With 4G being an IP based network, voice usage will primarily be VoIP eliminating the need for voice minutes. It will be interesting to see how the service providers handle this and how data usage will be charged.

Microsoft's final stand in mobile

We are just a days away from the opening of the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona. In the mobile world, MWC is the key mobile conference of the year – bigger than CTIA and CES.

There has not been a lot of news leading up to the show, but one item has caught my attention. Rumor has it that Microsoft will announce Windows Mobile 7. What will be a major announcement from the biggest OS maker in the world is barely moving the needle in the press leading to MWC. How is it that Microsoft has completely lost mindshare in the mobile world?

Coming from such a dominant position on the desktop, Microsoft should be the dominant OS on mobile handsets, but it has ceded this position to its rivals through an oppressive licensing structure, lack of focus, and lengthy delays in release upgrades. Nokia, Reaseach-in-Motion, and Apple are all ahead of Microsoft, and Google’s Android is rapidly closing the gap in mobile OS marketshare.

With its anticipated announcement, Microsoft is down to its final stand. Microsoft needs to take a page from Motorola’s playbook, who was basically left for dead last year in the handset market prior to the Droid release, and make some major strategic moves to have any chance in the mobile OS market. If I was running Microsoft’s mobile strategy, here are four things I would do.

1. Copy Apple’s iPhone strategy. When Apple introduced the iPhone, it was tied into its existing ecosystem. For example, iPhone users did not have to learn new behaviors for buying products, they used the iTunes store they were already familiar with. I would leverage Microsoft’s existing infrastructure and platforms with their mobile strategy, not force users to learn new behaviors.

2. Integrate with the xBox platform. The biggest product success Microsoft has had in the last 5 years is its xBox franchise. The xBox franchise has a rabid and loyal fanbase. With gaming becoming an increasingly popular segment in mobile, I would create a tight integration between the mobile OS and the xBox platform, giving its loyal gamers an easy way to move back and forth from the console and mobile environment.

3. Give the OS away. The ability for Microsoft to command a license fee for its mobile OS has passed. Handset manufactuers can use Android or LiMo (Linux Mobile) for free. I would provide WinMo 7 for free or start manufacturing my own handsets.

4. Leverage the Zune HD interface. I’ve been using a Zune HD for the past 6 months, and the interface is amazing. It is the best touchscreen interface I’ve used to date – much better than the iPhone and Nexus One. It is fast, responsive, accurate and intuitive. I would build a mobile OS to leverage that interface, not introduce yet another one to the market.

The latest rumors have Microsoft trending these directions, but not in a strong enough way. Microsoft is taking too cautious an approach to modifying its mobile strategy when it should be taking bold, go-for-the gold approaches. Microsoft cannot afford to be a niche player in mobile, there is too much at stake. Unless Microsoft is willing to venture outside its comfort zone and take some risk, Microsoft will quickly become an non-factor in this important market.

Microsoft’s upcoming announcement will be a turning point in its mobile future, for better or worse. While it hasn’t been getting much attention, this is one person who is anxious to see what they have up their sleeve, if anything.

Verizon to Apple – "iDon't"

Wow! Verizon really turned up their game this past weekend. Unfortunately, I missed the ALCS game Saturday night (youth football comsumes my Saturdays in the fall), but thanks to the power of the internet and RSS feeds, my reader was full of articles regarding Verizon’s latest ad push. On the heels of its “There’s a map for that” campaign that went directly after the poor quality of the AT&T network, Verizon released the “iDon’t” campaign during Saturday night’s game. While the ad is a bit cryptic, it clearly attacks the iPhone and promotes the Motorola Droid device, the first Android-based handset on the Verizon network.


 The website at the end of the video, droiddoes.com, is a teaser site set-up by Verizon that provides a bit more detail, but it is almost as cryptic as the ad. There are no pictures of the device on the site, and the countdown timer is an illegible assortment of symbols. Verizon is trying to build some anticipation around the launch, but it needs to come clean with details – and fast. For example, I saw the ad with the family this evening, and they had no idea what was going on and what the Droid logo at the end meant. If Verizon isn’t careful, they could botch this whole release by being too cute.

That being said, the reviews on the Droid are very positive, and people are announcing that a rival to the iPhone has finally arrived. Boy Genius Report has posted photos and a hands-on review, and TechCrunch has offered its opinion as well. While the hardware is impressive, its biggest advantage is that it’s on the Verizon network instead of the beleaguered AT&T network. Another data-intensive device might have caused the AT&T network to seize up and explode.

Of course, the biggest implication of the new ad campaign is that it stamps out any remaining ray of hope that Verizon would pick-up the iPhone. I would love to know the details of the negotiations between Verizon and Apple. Someone at Apple must have really pissed off Verizon, because this campaign borders on personal. I must say that if the iPhone does end up on Verizon one day, then Apple has a better sense of humor that I could have ever imagined.

Given how Apple likes to directly attack it’s competition’s shortcomings (remember those Mac vs PC ads), I’m happy to see someone take the offensive against the iPhone. I guess all the posturing around the Verizon/Google announcement at CTIA was more than just talk….

File this under: "What took you so long?"

Alternate solution - the universal charger

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been upgrading your mobile phone every couple of years. Combine this with the upgrades from other members of your family, and you’ve most likely ended up with a drawer full of old chargers, headphones and other miscellaneous handset cables. For some strange reason, manufacturers must think that the shape and style of the connectivity port on the phone is a feature. Some manufacturers go as far as to have each handset in its line-up with a different charger or headphone jack.

Well, those days may be coming to an end. The CTIA is urging handset manufacturers to support broad adoption of two input/output features on mobile handsets: a 3.5mm audio plug for audio and a micro-USB port for charging and connectivty to other devices. The CTIA recommends that manufacturers implement it in one of three ways:

  • USB Micro-B for charging/data transfer and 3.5mm for headphones/microphone
  • USB Micro-AB for charging/data transfer and 3.5mm for headphones/microphone
  • USB Micro-AB for charging/data transfer/headphones/microphone

These guidelines are recommendations to be implemented in handsets by January 2012. Whether or not the handset manufacturers follow these recommendations remains to be seen – we can always hope.

Simplifying the consumer experience is such a straight forward exercise it begs the question – “What took you so long?”

The official CTIA release can be found here

CTIA Wireless 2009

Having to follow two big international wireless tradeshows (GSMA World Congress and CES)  is a big task for CTIA, which was held last week in Las Vegas. I sometimes wonder why they don’t spread these shows out a bit more.

There were not a lot of major announcements at this show. A handful of new handsets were revealed by  the major manufacturers and all of them focused on messaging capabilities. Slider style keyboards seemed to be a major theme and Apple is the only manufacturer that doesn’t have a dedicated keyboard.

The biggest topics at CTIA were centered around software and mobile applications. RIM announced it’s BlackBerry App World and Microsoft talked about its upcoming Windows Marketplace for Mobile. Google and Nokia also have their own plans. With Apple’s App store generating so much buzz, it is no surprise that everyone else is trying to get a piece of the action. App stores are not a new idea and have been around ever since PDAs were popular. The problem was that it wasn’t easy to find an app and install it on your device. The iPhone changed all of that and everyone will probably admit that Apple has changed the way consumers and manufacturers think about applications. It is now an essential part of the success of a smartphone, not just a nice-to-have feature.