CTIA Scorecard: Handsets

Whose profile is rising: Samsung and ZTE.  Compared with other handset manufacturers, Samsung probably had the biggest announcement at CTIA Wireless 2009. The company unveilved its WiMAX MID, the Mondi, which Clearwire will launch in the second quarter. The Mondi, which runs on Windows Mobile 6.1, is an impressive piece of hardware that has a 4.3-inch touchscreen, a full Qwerty keyboard, optical mouse, built-in GPS and WiFi, the Opera 9.5 browser, push email support, a 3-megapixel camera and camcorder.

Samsung also released its successor to the Instinct, the Instinct s30. While there were few updates to the device, Samsung touted its "openness" to developers.

Samsung also provided a few new details about its handset roadmap and its use of Google's Android platform. The company said it will release two different phones using Google's Android platform in the second half of the year for Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile USA, the only two U.S. carriers in Google's Open Handset Alliance.

ZTE also provided some details about its U.S. market plans in a bid to raise its profile. The Chinese equipment and handset vendor obviously has an interest in doing so, since it's not a household name in the United States. ZTE said it is in discussions with Sprint and Verizon Wireless to bring some its handsets to the Tier 1 operators. According to Raymond Kim, general manager of sales for ZTE USA, ZTE will likely focus on smartphones. The company is also considering creating a dual-mode CDMA/LTE handset.

Whose profile is falling: Motorola and Sony Ericsson.  Motorola and Sony Ericsson did little at CTIA to dispel notions that their handset divisions are flying blind. Motorola unveiled the Evoke QA4 recently, a touchscreen-slider hybrid phone, but brought little else to the show that was eye-catching or new. The company would not even talk about the future of its handset strategy. Motorola is betting quite a bit of its handset division's future on the potential success of its forthcoming Android offering, but has yet to explain how the phone will be differentiated.

Meanwhile, Sony Ericsson did not bring any new hardware to CTIA, and in the weeks leading up to the show suffered a smattering of bad news. The company issued a first-quarter profit warning, fended off rumors that the joint venture would dissolve, and saw its North American chief resign. Sony Ericsson said it would continue to focus on its core competencies and leverage the Sony brand and technology. One of the company's premier products, the C905 camera phone, may be one of the best camera phones on the market, but it does little to further the impression that Sony Ericsson is innovating (though the company has committed to producing an Android phone somewhere down the line). Winning the megapixel race may be a nice feat, but crystal-clear pictures aren't the only things users want to get out of their phones.

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