At CES mobile phones (cellular to you and me) are no longer certain what they want to be.
Are they cameras? Are they PDAs? Are they going to be expandable? Will they be for games, for instant messaging, for fashion, what?
Normally, after a show like CES, the market would make those decisions. Some products would sell well, others would sell poorly, and next year we'd see copycats of the former, then scratch our heads trying to remember the latter.
Not in this case.
Not in this case because carriers control this market, as they control nothing else.
We've already seen carriers cripple valuable features, like Bluetooth. If carriers choose not to let a phone use its network, it's just not on.
So what we're left with is a political struggle. Device makers are looking for a market oomph they can use to press carriers into taking their product, despite reservations.
They will point to the success of the T-Mobile Sidekick II, with its Web browsing and text messaging. See, they will say, that helped T-Mobile pick up market share. Cooperate with us and we can do the same for you.
But carriers are, on the whole, not competing on that basis. They're competing based on how extensive their networks are, how strong their signals are, and whether their operators standing by will answer the phone when you call.
Not that they're doing really well. The latest Consumer Reports survey on mobiles reads a lot like the previous ones. We're not happy, and the industry is in no mood to change that perception -- it's too busy growing like a weed, the players too busy eyeing one another like wolves.
Steve Stroh wrote in response to a previous post here that I'm wrong, in that WiFi will be a real threat to cellular, that hot zones are going to take significant market share away from these guys, real soon now.
Hope you're right, Steve. The carriers aren't listening to customers, and they're not listening to equipment makers. Maybe they'll listen to a little competition.