Every year, the calendar changes over to January and within a few days over a hundred thousand people descend on Las Vegas for the biggest electronics show of the year. This is CES, and it's where most companies lay out their plans for the year and the future.
In previous years, we've seen a number of smartphones announced at CES. But recently, we've been seeing fewer and fewer announced at the show.
But why is that? Well for one, the biggest mobile trade show takes place about a month and a half after CES. It's held in Barcelona, the last week of February. That would be Mobile World Congress.
Most smartphone makers are waiting to make the trip to Barcelona to announce their new smartphones. But why didn't some smaller players announce their phones at CES? That would have been a prime time to do just that. And not have to compete with Samsung, LG, Huawei and Sony for coverage.
CES would have been the perfect place for smaller smartphone makers to make their move
CES is mostly about TVs, laptops and concepts that we will likely never see again. Smartphones are rarely announced at these shows now.
And that's why it would have been the perfect place for smaller smartphone makers like ASUS, Motorola and even LG to announce their smartphones.
They would get more attention at Mobile World Congress next week, but they'll also be competing with Samsung and Huawei. Samsung will actually announce the Galaxy S20 and Galaxy Bloom (that's likely a codename and not the real name), ahead of MWC, on February 10. But the majority of the press will have the Galaxy S20 in their hands when they get to Barcelona. That's going to make Samsung the most talked about brand at the event, even though they aren't holding a press conference.
Huawei doesn't typically announce their next flagship at MWC. It's typically a few mid-range or budget smartphones, a new tablet or two and a new laptop. But given the size of Huawei, it also takes up a lot of the attention at MWC.
Because of that, LG should have announced the G9 ThinQ at CES. Motorola could have also announced its new flagship smartphone that is coming this year, at the show. And really could have stolen the show.
Less competition for coverage is better
We're doing some inside baseball here, when it comes to the tech industry. But it is pretty public knowledge that most smartphone makers hold their own events that aren't part of trade shows, so they can get more coverage. This is why Huawei doesn't announce the P-series at MWC, or the Mate at IFA in the fall. Samsung does announce its phones near the trade show, but it is still a week or two before the show, where it can monopolize the coverage from the media.
Announcing phones at CES would have done the same thing as having a one-off event, but with more media coverage. You already have all of these members of the press in Las Vegas to cover the many other announcements for CES. Why not use that to your advantage and shock everyone with a brand new flagship smartphone?
It sounds pretty simple to those of us on the outside, but there are some reasons why these companies aren't announcing their phones at CES. And it has less to do with the fact that MWC is the following month, than you might think.
The latest silicon isn't ready for a CES unveil
Qualcomm always unveils its newest Snapdragon chipsets in December – in Hawaii. Now those chipsets have been in mass production for a little while at that point. But they aren't quite ready for a new smartphone, in one to be announced, by January. Smartphone makers can't just slap in the latest Snapdragon chip from Qualcomm and call it a day. They still need to optimize it with their software and test to make sure it's running smoothly.
Smartphone companies also can't announce a phone just because it's a good time to do so. They need to announce the phone when it's ready. We've seen many smartphone makers announce phones months before they are actually going to go on sale. And by the time they do, everyone's forgotten about it, or have moved onto another phone.
LG has had this happen to them quite a few times, unfortunately. As their smartphones usually come out at least a month after they are announced. Meanwhile, Samsung launches there a mere week after the announcement.
So there are many other reasons why companies can't and don't launch their flagships at CES. But that needs to change. Particularly for companies that are looking to break into the US.
There were some phones announced at CES 2020 though
About a handful of smartphones were announced at CES 2020 this week. And the majority of them come from companies you've probably never heard of.
TCL and Coolpad are two such companies. Both announced pretty inexpensive 5G smartphones that will be available in a few months. TCL sort of launched three smartphones at CES, though they were tight-lipped on details. Telling us that we'll hear more at MWC in February. Coolpad launched a 5G smartphone that will be under $400.
Samsung did actually announce some phones at CES, or rather a few days ahead of the show. That's the Galaxy S10 lite and Galaxy Note 10 lite. Which are quite odd smartphones to be launching right now. Seeing as the Galaxy S20 series is coming next month.
Then there was the OnePlus Concept One. It was a concept, as you can tell by the name. But in all honesty, it wasn't that impressive. Basically, OnePlus figured out how to hide the camera on the back of the phone. But why is that a concept? The way it works is bigger than what it actually does. Because it uses electrochromic glass, it also serves as an ND filter. That's a big deal for those that do a lot of content creation using their smartphone.
And that was basically it. There were a few other "kickstarter-esque" smartphones shown off at the show, but we'll definitely never see those hit store shelves.
So if you're waiting to buy a new smartphone, wait til Mobile World Congress next month. It takes place from February 24 to February 27 in Barcelona, Spain. That's where all of the spring flagships will be announced.