Some 80,000 visitors ventured to Barcelona to attend the annual congregation for the mobile-minded, the Mobile World Congress (MWC). Long gone are the days when one single theme dominated the show. My main impression of MWC was that compared with last year, there was surprisingly little true news. I see evolution not revolution, which is somewhat odd as the overall business environment is clearly changing faster than ever.
Of course, everybody again claimed that they are active in the obligatory fields of cloud, analytics, and customer experience. However, if anything, I feel this convergence of marketing messages creates too many platitudes and undermines the practical use case scenarios that define the mobile mind shift. I went to MWC with several questionsin mind, and my main takeaways of MWC are that:
The central theme of Mobile World Congress 2014 for me was clearly Connected Living. I’ve been attending Mobile World Congress for quite some time — 2006 was my first, the year that it moved to Barcelona from Cannes. And, this year felt different. No longer did the event feel dominated by handset manufacturers and equipment providers. Mobile World Congress is no longer a telecom event; it is clearly a mobile event. Mobility has penetrated every industry and every aspect of life, and that diversity is now clearly felt at the show. The large presence of car manufacturers and the buzz around Facebook indicate a definitive changing of the guard. That shift is ongoing. The proliferation of connected devices, the explosion of over-the-top services and the rise of the data economy will continue to shape the industry. But for me, this year I felt excitement around our new connected lives.
Instead of launching their new flagship device at a separate event like last year, Samsung decided to leverage Mobile World Congress to cast a shadow on some other devices’ announcements. Expectations have been high in the past two weeks about what Samsung could announce. And while the atmosphere was not as crazy and irrational as for an Apple announcement, you could still feel today in Barcelona that expectations have been raised for the new smartphone sales leader.
As I pointed out in my post two weeks ago on what to expect at MWC, the Barcelona trade show is strongly biased on hardware specs. No exception to the rule here. The Samsung Galaxy S5 looks very promising on that front: faster, thinner, better battery and camera, etc. What’s more differentiating here is the positioning of the S5 as a fitness phone. It comes with a growing range of smart wearables, such as the Gear Fit – a fitness wristband with a curved screen – with a nice design. This is a way for Samsung to better engage users, especially when used in conjunction with new services like the enhanced S Health 3.0. It offers more tools to help people stay fit and well – providing a comprehensive personal fitness tracker to help users monitor and manage their behavior, along with additional tools including a pedometer, diet and exercise records, and a new, built-in heart rate monitor. Galaxy S5 users can further customize their experience with an enriched third-party app ecosystem and the ability to pair with next-generation Gear products for real-time fitness coaching.
Last year, when attending my tenth Congress in a row, I wrote that MWC 2013 would be more global and more disruptive than ever before. I believe the same will be true this year, with 2014 bringing a very important milestone in the shift to mobile: an install base of more than 2 billion smartphones globally. Mobile is transforming every industry by offering global reach and the ability to offer contextual services. That’s why we'll see many more marketers, agencies, business executives, and strategists attend the traditional telecom show.
Gone are the days when MWC was about operators' supremacy. As my colleague Dan Bieler summed it up in this blog post, telcos are increasingly being backed into a corner. I still remember this quote from Arun Sarin, the former CEO of Vodafone, in the Financial Times in November 2007: “Just the simple fact we have the customer and billing relationship is a hugely powerful thing that nobody can take away from us.” Really? Well, in the meantime, Apple and Google have created two powerful mobile platforms that have disrupted entire industries and enabled new entrants to connect directly to customers.
From a marketing and strategy perspective, I'd categorize the likely announcements in three main areas:
1) The Asian Device Spec Fashion Week: Getting Lost In Device Translation
Mobility is becoming pervasive in the enterprise. Smart devices, including wearables, are appearing in all sectors, both in developed and emerging markets. Businesses that fail to prepare for the mobile mind shift risk losing their competitive edge. I hope this year’s Mobile World Congress, which kicks off on February 24, will emphasize the interaction between business processes and mobility — in addition to the traditional gadgets.
I focus primarily on themes relating to the connected business and social collaboration, and I will travel to the world’s leading mobile event in Barcelona to gain new insights into several questions in these areas: