Mobile Pie visit Mobile World Congress
As February swings around each year, Mobile Pie directors Richard and I get a strange, perhaps innate, urge to travel to Barcelona. No it’s not the giant unfinished churches or the hilarious human statues we seek, but the world’s largest mobile industry gathering. Held at the Fira de Barcelona and boasting around 50,000 delegates, this truly monstrous event’s full title is GSMA Mobile World Congress.
The MWC always promises to serve up exclusive previews of the latest mobile technology, and the big players always aim to be the ones that provide the game-changing story of the week.
Big players means the device manufacturers such as Sony Ericsson, Samsung, Blackberry, Motorola, and HTC, and the others forging their mobile strategy such as Google and Microsoft. Nokia were a notable omission – limiting themselves merely to an off-site invitation only suite – and got people wondering whether they really had nothing to show, were concentrating on their legal battles or were just fishing for Apple-esque enigmatic points (Apple historically never attend external events such as this – apart from their secret agents of course). We can never know the reason, but of those that attended, it was Google, Samsung and Microsoft that probably made the big impressions.
Samsung’s new Bada platform and showcase device the Wave looks to make a splash (Bada is Korean for ocean, we understand). Aside from the usual nonsense technology trademarks (e.g. TouchWiz interface, super AMOLED touch screen), it’s the potential of the integrated application store and developer focus which tickled our interest.
Microsoft announced their new platform Windows Mobile 7.0 and it looked like a decent effort that focused heavily on social network and Xbox Live integration. Users can play mini games on their phone which use their Xbox Live gamertag to earn gamerscore and achievements, which seems pretty cool. When Richard probed on whether this functionality would be open to developers, we were advised to look out for a “rich developer story” that would be announced in the near future. We will, and that may look something like this:
The social side of the latest devices really seems to be taking center stage. We lost count of how many times a phone’s qualities were demonstrated to us by presenting the way in which a user’s combined contact, SMS, email, Twitter and Facebook information is delivered in one almighty integrated UI, and it looks like designers have been working very hard on this aspect. (The bias on this focus can really be seen in the phone TV ads too – which spectacularly took my ‘most annoying ads’ award from cars in 2009.) Notable examples of these socially-obsessed devices are the new Sony Ericsson Xperia X1, and its genuinely snazzy little brothers X10 Mini and X10 Mini Pro. However this Android family of devices told another, bigger story…
Slowly but surely Android has turned in a great year, and now has been adopted by most of the main device manufacturers. Google didn’t exhibit, but the talk by Eric Schmidt in the congress was all over the front pages of the MWC daily newspaper (yes, that really exists!). After the release of the Nexus One this year, he formally announced the shift of the company’s attention from desktop to mobile, and showed off the new Google Goggles app. Big talk.
The battle of the platforms is hotting up nicely, and seeing how it plays out will be intriguing. Also the mobile advertising industry is finally attracting major attention, with ad networks Admob and Quattro Wireless being acquired by Google and Apple respectively, and Orange delivering their brand new ‘Orange Shots’ service.
The MWC is also an opportunity for countries to show off their latest tech companies, with their own ‘pavilions’ – turning the halls into a kind of mini United Nations. One such outfit in the UK space showed off a new mobile typing technology that guessed the words you were going to say before you even started typing them, using machine learning. This could be impressive and/or embarassing! Outside of UK, it was the Swedish Pavilion which was our favourite. Hats off to them, they were they first to be dishing out the free alcohol on Monday. Swedish innovators myFC are looking to solve that ancient mobile power problem with their neat hydrogen powered FuelCellSticker technology. From what I could understand from the demo, you drop a magic pill into a pouch of voodoo-water to get 6hrs of battery time. Sounds great to us! At this point I’d like to add thanks and a shout-out to Caroline Karlsson of Swedish Trade Council for showing us round! Tack så mycket, Caroline!
As documented in my South West Screen MWC blogs from last year, we were a little disappointed with the lack of attention on content and content providers for mobile, but this year we were more optimistic with the presence of App Planet, sponsored by Vodafone. However the 50 exhibitors inside were not much of an attraction and the representation of games was still woefully inadequate. It was a good idea and intention that maybe was poorly executed, we will hold out for next year!
All in all, it was a very interesting few days. It seems like there was a little more buzz about things than last year. Over the course of the congress the general ideas, concerns and hopes everyone has do sink in, and it’s good to take some time to think about the direction of the industry as a whole.
On a final note, away from the conference Richard continued his baffling ongoing international pursuit of saffron.
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