CTIA: Lipstick on a Pig

Ctia
figure 1: various logos of CTIA. It's probably supposed to show multi-facetedness and diversity, but it's a lot more like untreated schizophrenia.

There is something seriously wrong with the wireless industry. The CTIA Wireless IT & Entertainment is emblematic of the issues that plague the wireless industry. It's seriously like a microcosm of what's broken in the wireless world.

From the press side of things, this conference is a wash so far. Sony Ericsson is not there, even though there is a Sony Style store right across the street. Even Palm, located in nearby Sunnyvale, isn't there. Facebook might have a good talk tomorrow, and Microsoft's announcement of Microsoft System Center Mobile Device Manager 2008, though it screams entertainment, is clearly aimed at the enterprise. They had nothing to announce for entertainment; one of the key things that will make anyone actually want to have a smartphone. Sure, if the IT department hands you a smartphone as part of some massive rollout, maybe your average featurephone user wouldn't turn it away.

Aside from a few game companies, MobiTV, maybe AOL, and the maps companies (TeleAtlas and NavTech), there really wasn't anything at this conference that would offer any significant value to the actual consumer. No breaking news, nothing earth-shattering, nothing truly compelling. I'm sure that the Blackjack II will excite its fair share of Windows Mobile users, but to what end? It's essentially a tech specs and OS upgrade (that Blackjack owners should have received by now anyway). MobileFocus could be a different story, but if MobileFocus is the story of entertainment and gadgets, what's wrong with CTIA?

And this is a shame. Mobile content should be a huge affair. Mobile is going to provide one of the screens that people use to view their content, to listen to their music. "Wireless IT *and* Entertainment" is CTIA's tagline. That "and" is an important part of everything -- it's supposed to indicate that Entertainment is to be found somewhere.

Perhaps most tellingly, Apple, with the iPod, iPhone, and the iTunes store, is not listed as a partner for any of the kiosks I visited. Apple is not here in any official or unofficial capacity, except perhaps as the metaphorical graffiti on the other side of the wall. Oh, and the flagship Apple store a few short blocks away. No one is trying to cash in on the iPhone's success, no one is trying to ride its coat-tails. Apple and the content owners don't show up at this conference, which makes this CTIA event a lot like an abandoned ghost town. The iPhone has been announced for nine months, out for three: and there's nothing out there that even remotely answers the challenges and problems it brought.

It seems like the point of this conference is to try to team up and see how their bricks can help build up the "walled garden." We were continually lambasted by criminally bad ads prior to Ballmer's keynote from groups that are scared brainless of the kind of regulation that might actually make consumers' mobile world not suck. The calls for regulation that crop up with increasing regularity are there for a reason -- the wireless world is broken right now, and I don't think the usual suspects know how to fix it.

Mr. Largent, tear down this wall.

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