The key mobile trends emerging from CES 2011

Motorola's post-PC play, the 4G era starts to arrive, and the new generation of Android is about to be born

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This shift involves more than a change in hardware. The world of apps is also changing, moving away from the overstuffed, overly complex suites such as Microsoft Office and Adobe Creative Suite to the simpler, more focused apps that were pioneered for the Apple App Store and are now being developed for other mobile platforms. Apple's iWork apps for iPad and the Omni Group's suite of idea-management apps for iOS devices are two examples. Apple's decision to bring the app store to the Mac OS X, which it launched yesterday as the 10.6.6 update to Mac OS X Snow Leopard, will begin to help desktop users make this transition as well. Simple, "best of breed" apps are the new future.

4G technologies begin to slowly appear in the real world
Every carrier announced 4G plans at CES, which means updating their networks to one of several faster cellular data technologies, such as HSDPA, HSPA+, and LTE. The acronyms don't really matter -- except for WiMax, a technology that only Sprint is supporting, so its longevity is in doubt -- despite the blogosphere's obsession with them. What matters is that the carriers are all investing in more bandwidth and higher speeds, which will at least keep up with the exploding demand for mobile Internet access and may at some point translate into more PC-like interactions.

But it's critical to remember that 4G deploymets will take a good decade to complete -- after all, 3G was promised a decade ago, yet huge parts of the country are not served by it. Even in major cities, so-called 2.5G EDGE networks are far too common. Expect the same halting implementation of 4G, since it costs a lot of money to upgrade the cell towers and infrastructure. Still, you'll get 4G services in some parts of cities by 2012, and many mobile devices shipping this year will be able to take advantage of 4G networks when available. Don't be surprised if in 2012 all new mobile devices are 4G-capable, even if most if the time they're actually connecting to 3G and EDGE neworks.

The transition to 4G will be slow and sloppy, but it has started.

The Android onslaught begins in earnest
Android smartphone sales already rival that of iPhones in the United States, with both outpacing BlackBerry. It may seem odd for me to say that the onslaught is only now beginning in earnest, but 2011 is the year that several factors hobbling Android will be removed.

Android has done well in smartphones since Android OS 2.1 was released; that version of the Google mobile OS finally delivered a platform that could effectively compete with the iPhone's iOS. Yes, iOS is superior, but that doesn't matter. Android for smartphones is plenty good enough for most people, just as Windows is on the desktop. Android will do even better in 2011 as smartphone vendors make two major strategy changes:

  • They'll be more current in the Android versions they use, ending the ridiculous habit of running versions two or three generations old as many did in 2010. That'll help reduce the open source Android's fragmentation problem.
  • They're investing more in improved UIs and capabilities on top of the Android core. That's good for users in the short term, as Android continues to have some rough spots relative to iOS. It's also good in the long term because devicemakers are putting more skin into the game, which means better results for customers. HTC, Motorola, and even Dell are adding original value to their Android devices -- a real change from the situation in desktop PCs where there's no real difference among Windows systems other than the quality of their parts. A PC is just a PC, but an Android is not necessarily an Android -- and that means more innovation and competition.
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