Eric's Wrap-Up Rich's Wrap-Up
Before the show started, Rich commented on the number of mapping and location based services (LBS) exhibitors and announcements. He suspected this was finally going to be the CTIA where LBS really hit the States. LBS and navigation for phones are huge in Asia and slowly catching on in Europe, would they catch on here? Once we got to CTIA we saw the answer was still no. Out of everyone we talked, only Sprint has concrete plans to launch LBS this year, and the services will initially be limited and predictable.
Instead, other trends emerged - some that we had suspected, and some that were a big a surprise. For instance, iTunes phone or not, music was big news - whether downloaded, transferred from a PC, or streamed. No surprise there. Every manufacturer showed off phones with music playback, many with dedicated control buttons on the phone and memory cards to store songs (for Verizon phones it seems that's about all the memory cards can do... still). Amp'd, Sprint and Verizon both talked about streaming and the eventuality of downloads over the network.
Other than current partnerships like Sprint's tie-up with Music Match, the carriers were hush hush about potential partners. That being said, the CDMA carriers and their MVNOs (Sprint, Verizon, Virgin, Amp'd) all seem to be more on the ball when it comes to content than Cingular or T-Mobile. Maybe it's just because 3G speeds are a near term reality for them while the GSM boys won't have anything until fall at the earliest.
Now that cellular subscribers are discovering stuff like ringtones and music and video, content has finally reached a stage where people are talking about it realistically. One thing that all the carriers, and in turn the software and phone makers are realizing is that it's really hard to find the content you might want to download. The solution that seems to have been reached simultaneously by Amp'd, Sprint, Motorola and more is themed channels that bring together wallpaper, ringtones, streaming media, games and downloads all around a specific brand, artist or lifestyle. Buy the phone, download a channel or theme or whatever your carrier will call it, and viola, you have a Jay-Z or Jeremy McGrath or Prada handset. Openwave, Qualcomm's BREW team and others were also at the show demoing the necessary software to support these new content services.
It's too bad that while so many are getting content software right, so few seem to be getting interface or menu software right. I saw so many hot phones that I just don't want to own because i know the software will drive me crazy. I saw so many average or slightly above average phones that may not be lookers but were a pleasure to use. And there were very few phones that had that achieved the holy grail of brains and beauty. My prediction? That's going to be everyone's next challenge, and we'll hear tons of talk about it 6 months from now. The features and form factors are no problem anymore, now it's all down to usability.