Mobile World Congress 2010: a wrap up

I posted some thoughts when in Barcelona last week. So did my colleagues Mike Cansfiled, Charles Golvin and Ian Fogg. Now that I am back from the MWC pilgrimage and that I have digested briefings, meetings, press releases and demos, here are my key takeways on the Mobile Mecca gathering.  

 

The mobile industry is in full swing. Its center of gravity is shifting from hardware to software, from voice to data and services, and from traditional telecom stakeholders to new entrants.

Google’s “mobile first” approach and the shadow that Apple cast over the show are forcing mobile operators in particular to redefine their position in the value chain. The traditional focus on infrastructure (LTE..) and this year’s debate on operators’ congested networks need to be put in the context of nontelecom players’ willingness to monetize mobile. Mobile World Congress is a unique opportunity to witness how mobile is reinventing itself and to see how it will become even more disruptive in consumers' daily lives in the future.

Online players like Google have become a driving force in the industry. The keynote by Google’s CEO insisted that the company would now prioritize software development for smartphones over that for desktop PCs. Vodafone’s CEO warned fellow telecom executives that Google — and other companies that dominate parts of the mobile ecosystem — could be getting too powerful.

Echoing the CEO of France Télécom’s quote from two years ago that operators should not build freeways for Californian cars, there is little doubt that Google is a disruptive force in the industry. Operators face a limited window of opportunity to reinvent their business models alongside the role of smart enabler.

Hall 7, formerly known as the Mobile Entertainment Hall, was transformed this year into the App Planet Hall. This “event within the event” was a new and unique opportunity for various stakeholders — including Google, RIM, and Vodafone — to attract developers. Echoing Apple’s tagline that “there is an app for that,” everyone wants to have their own application store. The success of the Apple App Store and the huge interest in applications is persuading many different stakeholders to launch new retail environments. As such, this trend is symbolic of current changes in the industry and the need to maintain direct relationships with consumers. I continue to believe several will fail and that consolidation will take place (see PocketGear buying Handango) and that niche players will emerge to serve specific industries (heatlh,...). After all a store is a store and there is no reason why there should only be hypermarkets!

Beyond the traditional vendors, online players, and the myriad innovative startups, several nontelecom players, such as Visa, had a significant presence at MWC this year, investing in highprofile booths to promote their mobile products and services. Highlighting the growing interest in mobile, executives from many different industries spent a few days at MWC to better identify opportunities and future trends. 

Outside of mobile content, three key inter-related topics were under the spotlight: location-based services, mobile marketing and advertising, and mobile commerce and payments.

 

 

You can find more details in two recent quick take reports on MWC:

 Mobile World Congress 2010: Welcome To Nontelecom Players   that I just wrote as well as a great piece from my colleague Ian Fogg on mobile devices:  Mobile World Congress 2010: Smartphones Are The New Phones.