CTIA Preview: Palm may dominate a low-key CTIA

Many industry insiders are predicting that because of the economy, longer development cycles for high-end handsets and a general abundance of caution, there will be few major handset and operating system announcements at the 2009 International CTIA Wireless conference in Las Vegas next week.

"If you look at what the show should be, it should be relatively low-key. We've got a horrendous recession that isn't really hitting the carriers that hard. But it's beating the tar out of the supplier side," said John Jackson, senior vice president of research for CCS Insight. "All the signs would say it's going to be a quieter show."

One announcement that may be made is the pricing and a launch date for the Palm Pre, which Sprint Nextel is expected to launch sometime in the second quarter. So far, few details have emerged. "I don't know if they're going to announce anything. I haven't seen any major presence from Sprint," said Avi Greengart, an analyst at Current Analysis. "I don't necessarily expect them to announce anything."

Besides that potential announcement, there does not appear to be any major handset news in the offing. Android itself is not going to have any presence at the show, according to Google spokeswoman Carolyn Penner. So don't expect much in the way of major Android device launches at CTIA. "If you're in that Android camp it's a more global model for you, so I would expect them to do that on a more appropriate stage," Jackson said. The one hiccup to this theory might be Samsung, which has a press conference March 31, where top company executives will unveil, in vague but slightly promising fashion, "new mobile products and services."

As for other players in the handset space, the spotlight could be turned back to struggling Motorola--if they show up with something eye-catching. "Motorola has been very explicit. They've cancelled their stuff between now and then," Greengart said. "If the goal is lower expectations before a major announcement, they've done a good job of lowering expectations."

Jackson said he agreed. "There's not a lot of pressure on Motorola because expectations around them are low," he said. "In that way if they show up with anything that's significant, there's nothing but upside."