It’s that time of the year: the pilgrimage to the Mobile Mecca, Mobile World Congress (MWC), in Barcelona. This is my 10th pilgrimage in a row and, needless to say, the event has changed tremendously over the past few years – from 3GSM in Cannes to the new venue in Barcelona this year. While CTIA is still very US-centric and CES is still a lot about TVs, MWC is really the only global mobile event with a strong presence of operators and handset manufacturers from all over the world. Every year the show becomes not only more global, but also more open to new categories of players — such as advertisers and developers — willing to make the most of mobile technologies, and more open to connected devices that go far beyond the traditional definition of a mobile phone. Markets are colliding and mobile innovation is at the center of these upheavals. MWC used to be a telecom show focusing mainly on mobile technologies, but the event is now bringing together people from every industry.
In the light of today’s first announcements, here is my take on how to put in perspective the announcements to be made at MWC 2013 in the coming days:
I swear I've been here before. Not here, as in here at CES, where I spent the week checking my product assumptions against the actual offerings arrayed on the showfloor. But here, as in at a crucial moment in time when a single industry rushes to push a massively expensive, relatively unnecessary technology on unsuspecting consumers. That's the case with Ultra HD at CES 2013. Formerly known as 4k TV (because of the rough number of horizontal pixels employed in the technology) and now already truncated to UHD by company reps on the floor and in the hallways, Ultra HD is supposed to be the next thing every consumer will want.
It ain't gonna happen. The reasons evoke a ready comparison to 3DTV. And indeed, I have been here before, back at CES 2010 where I wrote a piece called 3DTV at CES: Poking Holes in the Hype. That year, some industry thinkers had conducted a survey and concluded that as many as 5 million consumers were ready to jump into 3D with both feet while opening their big, fat wallets. So I wrote the obligatory post that said, pointedly, no.
The comparison between 3D and Ultra HD is obvious. They were both too expensive at introduction (Ultra HD much more so than even 3D); they both suffered from a dearth of content availability; they both required a complete retooling of the equipment used by video production teams and film studios; and they both landed at a time when consumers were pretty happy with the awesomely large, cheap TV screens they already had.
Last week, we released our newest report about the future of TV and argued in it and the accompanying blog post that the battle for the TV is not really about TV. It’s about the future of the platform giants like Apple, Google, and Microsoft that want to add the TV to their platform ambitions. Surprising to some was our claim that Microsoft was in the lead in the US TV platform battle with its base of millions of Xbox 360 owners generating more online video views on the TV screen than viewers of any other device. Many have challenged this assertion, putting the data about current use aside and asking a good question:
Won’t Apple easily walk away with the TV business once it releases its next big thing, presumably a TV?
After months of rumors and a good marketing orchestration, Samsung has just unveiled its new flagship device, the Samsung Galaxy S3. Samsung will first launch the HSPA+ device in Europe at the end of May to benefit from the current weaknesses of its competitors — in particular, Nokia. It will release in the US in an LTE version later this summer. The aim is clear: to take the lead from Apple’s iPhone in the high-end smartphone segment and do even better than the Galaxy S2, which sold more than 20 million units.
Samsung is positioning a wide range of products in all segments and in multiple consumer electronic categories, leveraging its scale and scope and its vertically integrated approach (screens, processors, storage components, etc.). Despite the growing dependence on the Android OS, Samsung does not have all its eggs in the same OS basket. However, it clearly needs to catch up in the software and services space. That’s the reason I continue to believe that, in the premium segment, Apple is still in the best position to offer a seamlessly integrated experience across devices. Samsung’s cloud component is still missing, and it will need to continue its efforts to close the gap with Apple.
On the contrary, Apple — still one of Samsung’s largest clients (chipsets and screens) — has few models and higher margins and is in a position to leverage a different ecosystem around its OS, apps, and iCloud models. Thanks to the phenomenal success of the iPad, the Apple brand is reinventing itself and expanding into hardware categories that represent new growth drivers from which Samsung is not yet able to benefit.
Beyond the Samsung/Apple high-end leadership war, the great news is that these new smartphones will increasingly enable consumer-facing brands to launch innovative new product experiences. Some of the new services introduced by the Galaxy S III highlight this phenomenon:
Tablets aren’t the most powerful computing gadgets. But they are the most convenient.
They’re bigger than the tiny screen of a smartphone, even the big ones sporting nearly 5-inch screens.
They have longer battery life and always-on capabilities better than any PC — and will continue to be better at that than any ultrathin/book/Air laptop. That makes them very handy for carrying around and using frequently, casually, and intermittently even where there isn’t a flat surface or a chair on which to use a laptop.
And tablets are very good for information consumption, an activity that many of us do a lot of. Content creation apps are appearing on tablets. They’ll get a lot better as developers get used to building for touch-first interfaces, taking advantage of voice input, and adding motion gestures.
They’re even better for sharing and working in groups. There’s no barrier of a vertical screen, no distracting keyboard clatter, and it just feels natural to pass over a tablet, like a piece of paper, compared to spinning around a laptop.
Around 60,000 global movers and shakers of all things mobile once again descended upon Barcelona to attend the leading annual mobility event, the Mobile World Congress (MWC). This year’s main themes centered on metadata analytics, the customer experience, and over-the top business models:
The big data opportunity fueled the fantasies of almost all MWC attendees. In the case of telcos, data analytics is seen as the driver for improving the customer experience and developing new markets. Telcos talked a lot about the opportunities of analysing user behavior and turning user data into the new operator currency. The context- and location-aware nature of mobile solutions makes the big data opportunity particularly attractive. However, despite the talk, there were practically no case studies of operators that have succeeded in monetizing data on a large scale. Progress regarding data monetization is slowed down by a lack of clear business models, but also by an OSS/BSS infrastructure that does not support real-time or near real-time analytics. Moreover, privacy concerns also act as a drag on the uptake of data analytics. Equipment vendors such as Nokia Siemens Networks, meanwhile, showcased their customer experience management and analytics solutions for telcos. The solution combines analytics and the actions that operators must take to correct or improve the end user experience, such as a level one call handler pushing the correct settings to a phone or a marketing manager setting up a marketing campaign.