Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Wha'ppen At CTIA Spring 2010?

Hey guys, sorry for the extended hiatus... lots of traveling, lots of projects... all good stuff, except that it has meant that I've neglected the blog.

So what the heck happened at CTIA in Las Vegas last week... besides some age inappropriate behavior fueled by Vodka-Redbull? Here are some highlights, that I'll add to throughout the week as I think of more...

Stinkin' Badges. In a somewhat pathetic attempt to stay cool with the kids, CTIA created a purple-carpeted Apps World zone on the show floor, complete with a "Developers Clubhouse"... which turned out to be a good place for suits to adjust their insoles. As you can see from the exhibitors list there were very few top tier mobile content companies participating... weak sauce. But of course this has been the trend for years now at CTIA. As usual most content related meetings happened at suites in the Venetian or the Wynn... and maybe some in the maze of soul-less conference cubes in the convention center. Bottom line is that the show isn't really a content show at all, but it does provide a convenient, strategically located opportunity for mobile content types to see the carriers, technology providers and OEMs that the show is built around. For many, show badges are optional.

iPad, slates and tablets, oh my! Continuing the theme from CES, everyone was talking about these devices and the market potential they may create for content creators. Some OEMs were showing product publicly... some more secretly. I think App creators need to be a little cautious here. While I think some of these devices will become consumer phenomena, I don't believe that the consumer entertainment wallet is expanding. Dollars that flow into this segment will be be met with decreases in other areas... for instance, I think iPad owners will purchase Apps, games, books, subscriptions, etc. for their devices, but those same consumers will offset these costs by spending less on Apps for their iPhones and iPod touch devices. The biggest beneficiaries will be the e-publishers, who previously only had two viable distribution outlets, and the ad networks that have created products optimized for the platform. That said, early iPad sales buzz will surely help continue to fan the flames of hype.

WDA Keepin' It Classy. The venerable East Lansing, MI based mobile marketing and distribution agency Wireless Developer Agency (WDA) held one of their signature matchmaker dinners at Lawry's last Monday evening. CEO Konny Zsigo & crew put on a 1st class event, as usual, with free-flowing drinks, lots of great hand-picked, high level contacts to meet, a steak dinner, eye-candy, door prizes, transportation, etc. I've been attending these truly unique events since 2002 and I have to give WDA credit for facilitating introductions to many of my most important contacts and friends in this space. If you haven't been to one of these things before you should check it out, if you're given the opportunity. Basically it's a dance-card format, where attendees are matched up with contacts WDA believes would be valuable/interesting connections (they're usually right). An assigned, not-hard-on-the-eyes hostess makes sure you stay on task, and that everyone has plenty of beverages. Simple idea, well executed, super-effective, fun and useful.

Bad-Ass Android Devices. Best in show were the super-sexy Samsung Galaxy S, with its 4" super AMOLED screen (see image below), and the HTC EVO which Sprint is launching as the first US 4G handset. From a device perspective Android is kicking ass... particularly Microsoft's. The boys & girls from Redmond must seriously be regretting their decision to push of Windows Phone 7 to the end of the year about now. Speaking of competing operating systems, I'm not sure what Samsung's decision to release their coolest phone on Android, as opposed to their self-hyped, proprietary, bada smartphone platform means... but it should definitely give developers and publishers some pause about supporting bada.

Android Ecosystem. There continues to be a lot of vocal concern from content developers and publishers, particularly on the paid side, about anarchy on this platform. Google is doing nothing to manage the quality of the apps in Android Market, billing through Google Checkout is considered non-optimal at best, Google is putting all the customer service burden on publishers and they haven't mitigated OS fragmentation. Everyone is excited about the growing install base on Android, but as I've said before and as recent data about Nexus One sales reveals, Google has no track record as a merchant. This is a non-trivial matter when you're trying to sell physical or digital goods, and frankly Apple has set the benchmark. Google had better ramp up its capability in this area quickly. Meanwhile those operators who have created a curated, carrier-billed, store-within-a-store on Android Market are claiming they are outselling the broader store by multiples of 10 or more. Perhaps this is the path forward, and Google has no plans to sell direct in the longterm.

PUSH N900 Mod. Nokia wins most creative award for a display they put together highlighting contestants who participated in challenge to use modded N900s and its Maemo open source software to created unexpected innovations. This results (see example below) demonstrate how a connected smartphone really can be a remote control for both the virtual and physical world. This made me think a lot about the potential for a connectivity protocol that would give users the option to control his/her environment from a smartphone. Imagine if you were prompted to connect your phone to your hotel room when you walked in the door and you could use it control temperature, lights, shades, etc... or if when you walked into fast-food restaurant you could immediately order and pay from your device. The possibilities are endless.

Sausage Fests. I must say that ever since the music labels scaled back their participation in, and extracurricular events at, the show (you know, since the ringtone market crashed) it seems that CTIA's parties are more male-skewed than ever. I'm not exactly sure why this is, but I do know that it takes the dancing option off table at most of these events... transforming them into cocktail mixers with music loud enough to prevent you from hearing what anyone has to say. Just nod and smile. I spent one night running around with a crowd, chasing something cooler all over town. It was a fool's errand... but we had some fun trying. That said, props to Zed, DivX and whoever threw that party at Tao on Tuesday night for top parties of the week.

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