Top mobile device company executives obviously overestimated their ability to positively spin responses to hard-hitting questions from Wall Street Journal tech columnist Walt Mossberg, who moderated a panel discussion about new mobile device trends at the CTIA Wireless 2011 conference today in Orlando.
Far from the light, casual conversation expected from an industry driven event, Mossberg took full advantage of having business leaders from five of the largest mobile device maker on stage at the same time. The discussion covered tablets replacing laptops and desktops in enterprise and how design plays a role in mobile device success as well as long-standing trends in the industry that show no sign of changing in the future.
“Can we ever get to the point where we get rid of the carrier subsidies…?” Mossberg asked, remarking that a subsidy-free smart phone would eliminate carrier contracts, early termination fees and the like.
Mossberg didn’t buy the response from Research In Motion SVP of Business and Platform Marketing Jeff McDowell who laid blame on the carriers, which use subsidies as a valuable marketing tactic (something that isn’t likely to go away). Conveniently, McDowell omitted key details about his company’s relationship with those wireless carriers, who are estimated to pay almost two-thirds of the total cost depending on the device model.
“Our main channel of market for the smart phones is the carriers. That’s a strategic decision that was made many years ago. For us to change that decision would be tough to do overnight,” to which Mossberg replied “All right, I’ll give you two, three nights.”
McDowell got hammered yet again over RIM’s Playbook tablet — or more specifically the device’s Bridge technology that allows data syncing between Blackberry smart phones and created specifically for their most dedicated customers.
“So when I write my column, I can tell my audience not to bother if they aren’t huge blackberry users?” Mossberg said, later acknowledging that the Playbook offered a full experience and that the Bridge technology was simply complimentary to those owning a Blackberry.
Samsung Chief Product & Technology Officer Omar Khan also got drilled. He seemed well aware of Mossberg actively dismantling any spin, but continued touting the company’s new Galaxy 10.1-inch and 8.9-inch tablets as comparable to Motorola’s Atrix smartphone/netbook combo when paired with keyboard accessories.
“Lots of devices have keyboard docks, this is something different,” Mossberg said, which Khan agreed with and added that any innovation is good for the entire industry.
The huge potential for growth from Galaxy-branded accessories Khan spoke of was met with a question from Mossberg about whether it opens them up to the same kind of flack that Apple gets for being closed off from third-party manufacturers unless they work directly with Samsung. Rather than address whether it was a concern, Khan began explaining how they invited Belkin on stage with them during an event in Barcelona to announce the Galaxy 2, but was quickly cut off.
“Steve Jobs brings people on stage, too. And they still get all that flack,” Mossberg said. “Everything you’ve said can be said about Apple, too.”