I had the opportunity to attend the spring CTIA event that wrapped up last week—considering the winter we've had here in the Northeast, I got used to the 80+ temps fairly quickly—the event was successful from an attendance standpoint (an estimated 40,000 people attended), and without question attracted a very broad range of exhibitors focused on all things mobile. Almost all of the large vendors across the increasingly broad mobile ecosystem were in attendance. Product managers, marketing personnel, and executives are likely looking forward to Q1 coming to a close, as these past three months have been extremely busy for them on the event/travel front. As many of you are aware, Q1 features several must- see shows for many of us working in the mobile and wireless space—CES and NRF (January), MWC (Feb), and CTIA (March)—although there are few complaints about traveling to Barcelona for MWC.
While it was a challenge to navigate the show floor and meet with everyone I would have liked to, I did make sure to visit with several clients, and definitely enjoyed meeting with new companies that I had been following, but hadn't had any formal discussions with. What is impossible to miss and fun about covering the mobile space is the level of energy, excitement, and passion that comes through in almost every engagement. The level of activity in the mobile space is very much equitable to the environment we all saw in the late 90's—venture capital is flowing, and startups are finding niche areas to address voids in the mobile ecosystem. While one can easily argue that differentiation is becoming increasingly difficult, the re-engineering of applications, innovative business models designed for mobile platforms, and all the things that go with enabling these solutions has created a massive opportunity for many players throughout the mobile ecosystem.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have the chance to attend any of the keynotes, panels, and presentations that were held—as per usual, the event organizers did a great job signing up the right folks to participate on and moderate panels— additionally, the events scheduled throughout the week, and press releases timed for the event made it clear where the action is in the space (in no particular order):
While CES and MWC are the traditional events where new devices/models are unveiled, there was definitely some news at CTIA—on the tablet front, Samsung showed off a new 8.9” Galaxy Tab, and its 10.1" iPad 2 competitor. The long rumored 4G HTC Thunderbolt was also released this past week on Verizon's network, and RIM finally announced that the Playbook would ship on April 19th (I finally got to play with a unit, and to be succinct, I see its multi-tasking capabilities as a potentially significant differentiator).
Nokia's analyst event was a highlight for me: the company expounded on the details of their recently announced Smartphone (the "Astound"), the device is co-branded with T Mobile, and will retail for $79. The Astound runs the latest Symbian OS, has the Ovi Store preloaded, and offers data plans that start at $10/month. I was impressed with the phones feature set given the price point (NFC ready, 8MP camera, AMOLED touchscreen, etc.), and I think that we are bound to see more "lower end" devices from the likes of Apple and other handset OEMs (in fact, the Apple rumors started about a month ago). Key for me, was Nokia's awareness that apps for this class of device needed to be designed to allow users to be able to use the device "normally" while also adhering to limitations of the data plan. Nokia's event was well attended, and the opportunity to spend some quality time with Nokia executives was appreciated; naturally, we discussed at length the recent partnership with Microsoft, and I heard some very candid thoughts about how the company perceives its current position in the market (correctly, as an underdog), but not surprisingly, they are very bullish on their future, and have been very pleased with early collaboration work with Microsoft. Nokia's global channel is impressive; while they are weak in the US, Microsoft can/will help—many analysts have been openly critical, and view speed in releasing a Nokia branded Windows Phone as a critical issue. I largely agree, and think that Nokia can deliver earlier than many are projecting (potentially by the end of the summer), but I see as the real issue coming down to apps, and attracting developers, both Microsoft’s and Nokia’s SDKs are impressive, but it remains to be seen if the two companies can compete with the market leaders.
Like many of my peers, I'm watching the NFC space closely— I see the hardware as ready, the handset OEMs already releasing NFC capable products, and view carriers as the vehicle that will bring the reality of NFC to fruition (assuming that the next significant SDK update from Apple contains an NFC stack - Google’s SDKs are ready). Like other portions of the mobile ecosystem, there is a lot of complexity to be worked out in the mobile payment space, but as can be evidenced by the success of older technologies such as SMS in making mobile payments a reality abroad, it is unquestionable that NFC is going to have a big impact once it arrives in a meaningful way in the US.
On the event front, my next trip will be to Chandler, AZ for Field Service 2011— if you are planning to attend, please don't hesitate to reach out to me so we can meet, and talk mobility.