Smartphones neglected while M2M shines

Whose profile is rising? M2M

Once again, just as was the case last year, machine-to-machine connections and devices were in the spotlight at the CTIA Wireless 2012 conference. There was a dearth of smartphone and tablet announcements, and even though there was quite a bit of discussion around the future of Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Phone platform, traditional devices were not the stars of the show.

Click here for a slideshow of the phones announced at CTIA Wireless 2012.

AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) pushed M2M quite a bit at the show, and demonstrated its new "Digital Life" home automation and security service via a New Orleans Garden District home. Media and analysts were given a tour of the New Orleans house as AT&T showed off how various home appliances, window shades, table lamps, door locks, security cameras and even coffee pots can be outfitted with wireless sensors and then be controlled via an app on the homeowners' iPad or smartphone. However, since the technology will only begin in two pilot markets--Atlanta and Dallas--AT&T was mum on the crucial issue of price.

Other carriers also got into the mix. Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ) CTO Tony Melone called for a common, shared architecture for M2M connections, and argued that the industry's current approach toward the issue has created fragmentation. Melone said he wanted to see a horizontal platform for M2M services that would handle device activations and monitoring, among other services. Such a layer would allow M2M service providers to quickly and easily plug their offerings into a carrier network.

Beyond a focus on M2M, there was also a spotlight on enterprise security and device privacy at the show, with announcements from a variety of vendors. 3LM announced the release of version 3.0 of its security and management platform, allowing it to handle smartphones and tablets running Android 4.0 as well as Apple's iPhone and iPad. Symantec and Wyse also made product announcements, and Carrier IQ made a splash by naming former Verizon executive Magnolia Mansourkia Mobley to the role of general counsel and chief privacy officer, months after a consumer privacy uproar that threatened to derail its business.

Overall, there was a great deal of focus on non-traditional devices, and not a lot of anything else.

Whose profile is falling? Smartphone announcements at CTIA

While there were devices announced ahead of or during the show, including the HTC Droid Incredible 4G LTE for Verizon, Samsung Focus 2 for AT&T and HTC Evo V 4G for Sprint Nextel's (NYSE:S) Virgin Mobile brand, there weren't that many device announcements for CTIA attendees to chew.

Part of that stems from the companies that decided to skip the show or have minimal presences in New Orleans. Motorola Mobility (NYSE:MMI), Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM) and Sony Mobile Communications were essentially no-shows at CTIA. Nokia (NYSE:NOK) had a presence but no booth.

In general, handset makers are increasingly relying on announcements at their own venues. Just days before the CTIA show started, RIM held its annual BlackBerry World conference in Orlando, Fla., where CEO Thorsten Heins gave developers a sneak peek at BlackBerry 10. And days later Samsung Electronics, as expected, unveiled its flagship Galaxy S III at a splashy media event in London. Though both events had a global focus, neither was held in conjunction with CTIA.

The lack of device firepower at the show goes to the heart of a complaint that has been building about CTIA's spring show for a few years now. Coming so soon after the Consumer Electronics Show in January and Mobile World Congress in February--even with a delayed start in May--the show feels a bit tired as companies have exhausted their product announcements for the first part of the year and have little left to say on strategy that they haven't said already. Some observers think CTIA needs to consolidate its spring and fall shows into one annual show, but already the big device names are indicating that if they have news to announce, it won't be at CTIA.