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CTIA's fall show fights for relevancy

Even though we saw several new phones at CTIA, consumer attention flutters elsewhere to the arrival of the iPhone 4S, and rumors of the Motorola Droid Razr and the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. Even the phones that were announced weren't too much to get excited about. Should there be a CTIA fall show at all?

The fall CTIA show was smaller this year than in years past
Roger Cheng/CNET

While the fall version of CTIA in San Diego did not prove to be the boring slow show that we thought it would be, it still didn't exactly wow us. Part of the reason was the timing of the show this year was almost incomprehensibly bad: not only is the iPhone 4S launching in the same week, but two of the year's most anticipated Android handsets--rumored to be the Motorola Droid Razr and the Samsung Galaxy Nexus--are slated to be announced a week after the event is over. Samsung and Google did plan to announce their new Ice Cream Sandwich phone at the show itself, but they ended up moving the launch not only to another date, but to a country across the globe.

The Motorola Atrix 2 was one of the highlights of this year's CTIA, fall edition.
The Motorola Atrix 2 was one of the highlights of this year's CTIA, fall edition. Nicole Lee/CNET

Few surprises
This is not to say we didn't see any new phones. AT&T announced five new Android handsets at the opening of CTIA, for example. However, only two of them were seen at the show--the Motorola Atrix 2 and the Pantech Pocket--along with several handsets that we knew about already. They include the Samsung Stratosphere, the Samsung Transform Ultra, the LG Optimus Slider, and more. Few of these phones truly excited us, however. Even the Atrix 2, which is arguably the most interesting phone announced at CTIA Fall 2011, is more of a sequel. We certainly appreciated the opportunity to get hands-on time with so many previously announced devices, but the fall Enterprise & Applications show definitely pales in comparison to the much more active CTIA show in the spring.

Same ol', same ol'?
Yet, this is nothing new. The CTIA show in the fall has traditionally been the lesser of the two, preferring to focus more on enterprise solutions and applications over new hardware launches. It's more of a show for entrepreneurs and business deals rather than members of the press. But forgive me for feeling disappointed all the same. Previous fall CTIAs did see a few interesting handset announcements, like last year's debut of the Motorola Droid Pro along with four other Android phones by Motorola. Additionally, October is usually the time of big product launches as the holidays approach, and a fall trade show would be a perfect venue to announce such devices.

Or perhaps not. It looks like companies are much more comfortable handling the big announcements on their own stage and on their own time. Who can blame them, as they get more control this way, with much more attention as well. Yet, trade shows like CTIA and CES are a great way to gather many members of the press in one space, to get as wide a coverage as possible.

Time to jazz it up
One possible solution I've heard bandied about is that there should only be one CTIA show. Make it a big affair, similar to how Mobile World Congress is done in Barcelona, Spain. It would also be good to time the event a few months away from CES and Mobile World Congress so that companies actually have new items to announce. Next year's CTIA in New Orleans will take place in May, which is a step in the right direction.

Despite the rather lackluster show, I'm still glad we went. Having a chance to see phones we otherwise wouldn't see is great, like the HTC Sensation XL with Beats Audio, for example. We also saw the T-Mobile SpringBoard, a tablet from Huawei, a manufacturer that has yet to really make a name for itself in the U.S. Definitely check out our CTIA page for all our show coverage, along with photos, videos, and more.