CES 2015: Lack Of Killer Phones Sets Up MWC

With few new devices on display at CES, the major phone makers face increasing pressure to deliver at Mobile World Congress in March.



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The Consumer Electronics Show wraps up Friday in Las Vegas. Exhibitors showed off thousands of new products, including 4K TVs, wearables, drones, and other connected devices. A few companies trotted out smartphones, but many of the industry's biggest players had nothing new on hand. Though the last few months of 2014 saw many exciting products reach the market, smartphone makers can't rest on their laurels for long. Mobile World Congress is right around the corner, after all, and it promises to be a whopper.

Samsung is under tremendous pressure. The company had a disastrous 2014. It reported a steep profit decline during the third quarter and has already warned of a similar drop during the fourth. The Galaxy S5 (announced at MWC last year) failed to resonate with smartphone buyers the way the GS4 and GS3 did. Reports suggest Samsung has gone back to the drawing board for an all-new Galaxy S6, which is expected to make an appearance at MWC this year. Samsung needs the GS6 to get the company's smartphone sales headed back in the right direction. At the same time, it must shore up sales of low-end products, where it has lost ground to Chinese competitors.

While HTC also sat out CES 2015, the struggling Taiwanese phone maker was happy to talk about the future. The company is pivoting in a new direction: It will continue to make smartphones but also plans to pursue a connected device strategy. HTC already has a new camera in the market, and it will follow that up with more device categories. HTC made it clear, however, that its annual flagship phone refresh is on the way. The company debuted the One (M7) and One (M8) in between CES and MWC in 2013 and 2014, respectively. Whether or not HTC uses the lull between tradeshows to show off its 2015 model isn't clear, but we'll see it by MWC at the latest.

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Motorola was quiet during CES. In fact, it was represented by only a single tablet in Lenovo's space (Lenovo finalized its purchase of Motorola on Oct. 30 last year). Motorola introduced a trio of new phones in September, and it will be a while before we see new hardware from the former Google property. Company representatives indicated Motorola's presence (or lack thereof) at MWC will be similar to its CES presence.

Then there's Microsoft. Sure, it outed a cheap feature phone for emerging markets at CES, but it has been far too long since the company released a flagship smartphone. Microsoft announced the last noteworthy Lumia devices in September. We can blame Windows 10 for the delay in new Windows Phone hardware. Microsoft is believed to be previewing Windows 10 -- including the new phone UI -- on Jan. 21. If Microsoft is smart, it will use MWC to announce the first wave of Windows 10 smartphones, even if they won't come to market until later in the year.

Like Microsoft, Sony hasn't released a major new phone since September. Sony said it was comfortable with its mobile device portfolio heading into the New Year and was purposefully leaving space between device announcements. The company hinted that it will have more to say about smartphones at MWC. At CES, Sony took the opportunity to show off its 4K TVs, 4K video cameras, and wearables.

Smaller smartphone companies stole the spotlight at CES this year. ZTE, Alcatel, Lenovo, Asus, and Huawei all had new gear on display, some of which is headed to the US. It's pretty clear that the majority of big smartphone brands are spacing out their new device launches, with fewer each year. With its focus on mobile, however, MWC is a can't-miss opportunity for big and small phone makers alike.

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Eric is a freelance writer for InformationWeek specializing in mobile technologies. View Full Bio

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