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CES is a missed opportunity for Android phones

Latest Consumer Technology Products On Display At Annual CES In Las Vegas.

Mario Tama / Getty Images

Wander the massive halls of the CES trade show held annually in Las Vegas, and you’ll find a lot of smartphones. But very rarely do you find many new smartphones. Major manufacturers still showcase their devices, but they are models that have already been released rather than ones being debuted at the event.

Yes, the phone-focused Mobile World Congress (MWC) event is just around the corner, but for some phone brands — especially those wanting to gain more attention in the U.S. — CES is very much an opportunity to grab plenty of attention that’s currently being completely missed.

Colors and concepts

OnePlus Concept
OnePlus Concept device, shown off at CES 2020. Andy Boxall / DigitalTrends

It’s not a new thing for phone brands to not take CES very seriously. Over the years, companies have launched special editions of existing phones, new colors, or a few lower-range models. But to see a big flagship phone take center stage in Las Vegas is a true rarity. Instead, phone makers like to bring concept phones along. For example, in 2020, OnePlus showed the Concept One with its cool electrochromic glass over the camera lenses.

Before its demise, LG teased its “rollable” smartphone at CES, and TCL usually brings concepts to CES too. Concepts and teasers are an essential part of the CES experience, as the show is as much about future technology, experimental products, and what’s coming next as it is about new releases we’ll actually be able to buy in the ensuing months. But it’s also about getting attention, hyping up new products, and introducing people to new names, which is where the opportunity lies.

This means I’m not referring to big brands like Samsung, Google, and Apple. None of them need CES or MWC to get attention, and they have no wish to fight for headlines or floor space at a crowded trade show either. Major brands get much more value from a standalone event where they control everything and then dominate the news for days to come. Samsung is a good example. While its early “Unpacked” events took place at MWC, it soon decided not to let the trade show dictate its launch schedule. Now, it has separate events at different times each year.

CES is prime advertising space

best huawei mate 10 pro cases
Huawei Mate 10 Pro Digital Trends

Instead, CES is an opportunity for new, upcoming, or slightly smaller phone brands. Because CES is a bit of a smartphone wasteland, one of these manufacturers with a genuinely brand new product it’s going to release in the near future would almost have the mobile side of the show to itself, should it decide to launch at the event. CES is massive and attended by tens of thousands of people in the industry, including the media. That’s a lot of eyes on you, plus CES is particularly effective at getting U.S. eyeballs on a brand and product.

Huawei knew this, and in 2018 it chose CES to launch the Huawei Mate 10 Pro in the U.S., going all-out with a big onstage presentation and external events too. There was no point launching the Mate 10 Pro for the U.S. at MWC a month or so after, as it’s held in Barcelona, Spain. No, CES was the perfect launchpad for Huawei’s U.S. efforts, as it was mostly unknown outside China and Europe at the time.

It wasn’t Huawei’s fault that it also all went wrong at CES 2018 — it was still the correct decision to hold the event at the show. If everything had gone right and the Mate 10 Pro was available through AT&T as initially expected, CES would almost certainly have helped it build its brand quickly and effectively.

Phones at CES 2024

The back of the Asus ROG Phone 7 Ultimate.
Asus ROG Phone 7 Ultimate Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

That may be the last time something so big happens in mobile at CES, but it does appear one brand recognizes the potential of CES 2024 for a phone launch, and that’s Asus.

Asus has already confirmed it will launch the ROG Phone 8 at CES 2024, marking the first time it has used the Las Vegas event to show off its latest gaming phone. Asus is already well-known at CES for its popular computing products; however, it’s not as well-known for its phones in general. Leveraging CES to gain attention for its newest mobile device makes perfect sense, and as I’ve already mentioned, it’s probably not going to have much competition in Las Vegas at all.

Asus sees how CES could really help more people find the ROG Phone, especially in the lucrative U.S. market. However, not every new or upcoming brand has been so forward-thinking.

A person holding the Nothing Phone 2, with the lights active.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

I can’t help but think how CES is ideal for Nothing to really plant its flag in the U.S. market, but unfortunately, it appears the brand is doing … um, nothing special at CES 2024. After the Nothing Chats app debacle, which may have soured some U.S. buyers on the brilliant Nothing Phone 2, CES could have been very useful in helping erase that mistake from history.

Instead, Nothing is headed to MWC 2024, where we may get our first look at the rumored Nothing Phone 2a. It’s exciting, and there’s no doubt that MWC is the sensible, safe choice to launch a smartphone, which is why many other phone brands will launch phones there, leaving Nothing fighting for attention. It wouldn’t need to do so in the same way at CES, and it would also help introduce its fun, unusual brand and identity to more people in the U.S. — all in a very short amount of time.

Not a mobile show?

The show floor at CES
Robyn Beck / AFP via Getty Images

CES is not, and never has been, a trade show about smartphones. But that shouldn’t mean they are brushed aside. MWC is viewed as the main trade show for mobile devices, but for the last few years, it hasn’t seen many truly major, internationally relevant new model releases. Trade shows themselves have changed since 2020, so attempts to stick to old formulas and traditions seem backward and not befitting of the exciting, always-evolving tech industry.

Asus is taking a risk this year, but it really could pay off. The ROG Phone 8 will likely be quite a niche device, but it could also appeal to a great many people who aren’t even aware Asus makes gaming smartphones. CES is a great place to show off, and to gain headlines in a way it may not do if it launched the phone on a random, rainy Wednesday afternoon sometime in February.

Other brands that aren’t called Samsung, Apple, or Google would be wise to watch how Asus gets on at CES 2024 and not to sleep too long on any tentative plans to launch a flagship smartphone at CES 2025. It could give it a special kind of publicity that would be impossible to find elsewhere.

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