Friday, March 28, 2008

Gearing up for CTIA WIRELESS

The big North American wireless show takes place in Las Vegas, NV next week, and I'll be attending for the first time. Up until recently, wireless has really been a category all its own, somewhat distinct and separate from "consumer electronics". But today, mobile phones are virtually multimedia devices, and even mini-computers, crossing over into pretty much every category of CE.

I expect to see a lot over in Sin City (aside from the heavy gambling, drinking, and scantily-clad girls, of course!) Here are a few trends that I foresee taking precedence at this year's event:

Touch-screens: Ever since the iPhone hit the U.S. market, touch-screens have been all the rage in cellular. Sure, the standard messaging phone that comes with a stylus can technically be called a "touch" screen phone, but we're now seeing more advanced designs that are optimized for use by your grubby fingers. Most notable as of late is the HTC Touch with boasts its own TouchFLO technology (stay tuned to the April issue of here's how! for a review of this phone). Just yesterday, LG brought two touch-screen models into Canada. Even Sony Ericsson's 5 MP K850 camera phone includes a partial touch-screen (just the soft-keys). I expect to see tons more touch-able models on the show floor this year.

Apps: Applications are the hot trend for mobile phones now. You can download pretty much any type of application for your phone, from weather updates, to social networking site access, or even a poker game. Sites like serve as home to tons of third-party applications; and many providers try to work out deals with the manufacturer (or rather the carrier) to include their apps with the phones at purchase. Judging from the way the industry is going, along with the e-mail pitches that have been flooding my inbox for the past few weeks, application developers will be at every nook and cranny of CTIA WIRELESS. Some hot application? Social networking, navigation, and, just plain "fun" stuff, like games.

Video: Video on-the-go is becoming a popular category in itself, but being able to access video through a mobile phone is slowly gaining steam. I really saw it begin to take off in Canada a year ago when Rogers Wireless introduced video calling, along with its VISION suite of multimedia services that included, among many other features, access to top videos from sites like YouTube, along with TV content and movies. In the previous blog post, I discussed Quattro Wireless and's announcement to bring a "mobile" version of the Hollywood gossip site to cell phones. Being able to view video on a mobile phone is just getting started, and I gather we'll see tons more innovation in this area at CTIA and beyond.

WiMAX: At the Canadian Telecom Summit last summer, Motorola President Greg Brown said that WiMAX could make broadband "as ubiquitous as air," and he's right. WiMAX is basically an extension to traditional WiFi, permitting wireless access for up to 50 km rather than the paltry 30-100 metres that 802.11 can provide. There's an entire pavilion at the show dedicated to WiMAX, and I'll definitely be stopping by to find out what's in store for Canada.

Sleek, Sexy Designs: Sleek and sexy designs have truly become of paramount importance whether you're looking at the phone that's stuffed in your pocket, or the speakers that surround your TV. With regards to mobile devices, thin is definitely "in", as is large (and wide) screens, big buttons, ergonomic and attractive feel, and convenience keys, like one-button access to a camera, or music keys on the front of a flip-stye handset.

These are just a few of the key innovations I expect to see at CTIA WIRELESS 2008. Stay tuned next week for reports (including video on our sister Websites, and right from the show floor.

[Photo: Famous actor Willian Shatner joins Rogers Wireless' Chief Marketing Officer John Boynton at the launch of video calling in Canada last year.]
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