CTIA Diary: Major Themes at Wireless’s Big Show

CTIA Conference, San Diego--Since arriving here yesterday, I?ve seen a few things that have impressed me, and heard a few ideas that keep coming up in conversation. I?ll discuss them (in no particular order) below.

Androids Coming

One of the first things you notice walking into the hall is the presence of Android, Google?s mobile operating system. Beyond all the signs and huge blowup Android figures around, the OS seems to be one the main topics of conversation here. I suppose this is because Android has moved from being a buzzword among developers to being a buzzword in the marketing machines of handset makers and operators, now that Android phones are appearing on the market.

There?s a growing understanding that Google has created an OS that allows app developers more access to the OS code, more control over the device features and therefore more creativity when developing new apps. I expect Android (and Android apps) to dominate the best mobile handsets in the near future. Gartner Group says Android phones will surpass the iPhone in popularity in 2012, and will remain second only to Nokia/Symbian phones.

Every major wireless operator (with the exception of AT&T) has at least announced plans (most recently Verizon) to sell an Android-powered phone to run on its network. T-Mobile now sells three Android phones, while Sprint began selling its first Android phone, the HTC Hero, in September and will soon begin selling the Samsung Moment Android phone.

Moto is Cliq-ing

Motorola is hear hyping its new Motorola Cliq, the handset maker?s first stab at an Android phone. And the Cliq may live up to the hype: it's by far the coolest new device I've seen here. It?s the most compelling embodiment of the potential of the Android OS I?ve seen so far.

The Motorola Cliq.
Using the device, the first thing you notice is the flexibility of the interface. A Motorola-developed software overlay called ?MOTOBLUR? gives the user a lot of freedom to rearrange the interface any way he wants. Many other smartphones provide a single, rather rigid interface; but the truth is people do things like access media, look up contacts and engage in social media in many different ways, so the interface should be very customizable.

How does Samsung name it's phones?

Samsung trotted out a couple of new Android phones here. Nice phones, but I?m getting concerned about Samsung is choosing the names of its new smartphones. First came the ?Behold,? then (Behold!) the Behold II, and now they announce the ?Moment.? Hey Samsung marketing department: Can you guys get any more dramatic? After all these are just phones we?re talking about. They don?t cure cancer or anything?

T-Mobile and HSPA+

T-Mobile tells me they quietly rolled out a new, faster flavor of HSPA in its 3G wireless network in Philadelphia last month. T-Mobile says the new ?HSPA+? network can reach download speeds up to 21 mbps. That?s faster than even the speed claims of 4G WiMAX networks. Forgive me, but I will wait until somebody actually reports connection speeds that high in Phili before I believe it.

Got spectrum?

New FCC chairman Julius Genachowski gave the first keynote here yesterday, and managed to say more during his 40 minute speech than any of the speakers after him. It seems clear that we have a new, and much more engaged FCC, with an extremely capable person at its head.

Genachowski, emboldened by the FCC?s perceived victory in the ?VoIP on iPhone? controversy, had a lot to say about openness (read network neutrality), innovation, investment and competition in the wireless industry.

Genachowski also talked about the enormous growth in demand for wireless broadband service in the US, and about the immediate need to free up more wireless spectrum to accommodate that growth. (Genachowski called the spectrum dearth a ?looming crisis.?)

Widgets

Widgets for mobile devices seem to be a growing buzz in the smartphone world. Several companies are now making a business of making widgets, not least among them the browser developer Opera, who I spoke with today. Opera has already designed custom Widget sets for T-Mobile and Vodaphone phones in Europe, and hopes to strike similar agreements with US operators.

Opera explains that mobile widgets are different from apps in that they are created in HTML or Java and can run on a browser, so they can run on any operating system. Mobile apps, on the other hand, are entirely tied to the mobile OS that they were developed for?you can?t run an iPhone app on an Android phone. Opera says a long list of web services, like Facebook for example, are now or have already developed Opera widgets.

The CTIA fall show this year is not a big affair. The exhibit hall seems small in comparison to the one at last year?s show in San Francisco, which had two whole floors of exhibit space. The booths here are small, too. Walking around, the whole show seems dwarfed by the massive San Diego convention center in which it?s being held.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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