What a difference a trade show makes. Though Motorola dominated CES back in January, it didn't even whimper at CTIA 2011 last week. Indeed, the company announced no new phones and its small booth was way at the back of the show floor. I had to look on the map to find it, actually, and once there I found just a small table showing its latest phones and tablets.
Moto's small CTIA presence was surprising, particularly for a company that had stormed into 2011 with a gallery of high-profile devices like the Atrix 4G, the Droid Bionic, and the Xoom tablet. I was okay with it taking a lower profile at Mobile World Congress--it still put together a shiny booth--but I fully expected all hands on deck at CTIA. If anything, the company had to prove my prediction right that it was back, and back in a big way.
I'm trying to be patient, but I may have spoken too soon. It's not a good time for Moto to be scarce, as we need a boost of renewed confidence about its celebrated CES products. Yes, I know expectations for those devices were huge, and I accept that Moto hasn't been completely at fault for recent stumbles, but CTIA was the prefect opportunity for the company to keep the buzz going about its grand plans. Unfortunately, that opportunity has passed, and I'm disappointed that Motorola let it happen.
Pity the poor Atrix
With the insanity that is CES, it's hard to focus on anything, but I'm not exaggerating when I say that I was blown away by Moto's presence in Las Vegas. Each of the aforementioned devices was impressive, but it was really the Atrix's powerful features and its laptop dock that caught my eye. The Atrix review eventually fell to Bonnie, and she praised the handsets on most fronts. But when it came to AT&T's promised data speeds, things fell apart.
As Bonnie later reported, AT&T declined to enable the Atrix's HSUPA radio. So in other words, the device was capable of getting faster upload speeds (up to 5.76Mbps), but AT&T was preventing it from doing so. I know that this isn't Moto's fault, but like it or not, the user perception of a cell phone is influenced by the carrier on which it's operating. The outcry over the restriction was directed toward AT&T, and rightfully so, but the Atrix as a brand will suffer. Happily, AT&T has since reversed its decision (without providing a time frame), but Moto still needs to remind buyers of the Atrix's strengths. I wouldn't suggest that it point the finger at AT&T outright--alienating your carrier partner probably isn't wise--but CTIA was an opportunity to not let the Atrix be defined by its carrier.
Still loving the laptop dock
I was able to use the laptop dock for the first time since CES two weeks ago. It's still a great concept, but its star has faded somewhat. First off, I agree with Scott Stein's assessment that the lack of a Chrome browser and Chrome app integration is baffling. Editing word or office docs was clunky as well, and the music player doesn't run in the background. Yet, the biggest hurdle for the laptop dock is price ($500 alone, or $300 as part of a subsidized bundle with the Atrix plus a $20-a-month tethering plan). That's a lot of cash considering you could get a higher-functioning Netbook or tablet for about the same price.
Vroom, vroom Xoom?
As it won CNET's Best of CES award, the Xoom tablet had a lot to deliver once it hit the market. And when it finally did, Donald Bell gave it high marks for its hardware, fast performance, and loaded feature set. But here again, price remains a concern. At $799 off-contract, it's more expensive than the comparable 32GB iPad 2 model for AT&T and Verizon ($729). You can knock $200 off the price by signing a two-year Verizon contract, but then you're bound to Verizon for a couple of years.
What's inside also matters. As impressive as the Xoom is--I happen to consider it a worthy iPad alternative--Honeycomb in its current state feels a bit rushed and incomplete. Motorola could have used CTIA to focus on refining and promoting Honeycomb and highlighting the 32GB Wi-Fi-only Xoom, which launched two days ago for $599 (the same price as the 3GB Wi-Fi-only iPad 2).
Perhaps Motorola has a few more tricks up its sleeve. Maybe it wanted to save its marketing bucks and roll out new devices at a later date when it could better control its message. Or maybe, since it knows we'd complain about big unveiling events for vaporware (yeah, we're hard to please), it wanted to take time time to prefect its existing and new devices before making any public promises. But the fact remains that the eyes of the wireless industry were on CTIA last week and it needed to do something at the show (at the very least, we would have loved a release date for the Droid Bionic). Now I'm just worrying the company is becoming complacent again, or even worse, dropping the ball just when its starting an ambitious run.