To sum up Mobile World Congress 2013, I will borrow from Peter Marx, head of business development at Qualcomm Labs. Peter talks about a tendency for PTA or (for those in the know) Premature Technology Arousal in the mobile industry.
Much of the MWC 2013 floor area at the new Fira Gran Via venue exhibited PTA or Premature Technology Arousal. Solutions that are excited about being solutions. Solutions that are too early. Solutions that are missing reach and frequency. Things that are just not simple enough to drive adoption.
Even before 70 thousand executives hit the show floor, there were signs of “PTA”. From the Near Field Communications (NFC) show name tags that tried to emulated plastic (but that few used because you still needed to show the plastic) to tapping on Coke dispensers with cloud-base wallets that are many quarters away for mainstream adoption.
Booth after booth in this 1.01 million square feet techno-playground displayed incredible solutions and screens. But the real story to follow was how each solution quietly added value to a given business ecosystem. There was an invisible hand playing connect the dots. Here are a few examples:
The Invisible Google Hand
Google was almost absent – unlike the MWC of 2011 and 2012 where Google groupies ran from partner booth to partner booth in search of cute Android pins. But Google was most definitely on the floor. This year the company is wisely playing “powered by Google”. They are the dark silent type. Turn left or right in every hall, Android is the fuel this industry is consuming.
The same holds for Qualcomm. They are the chip manufacture that is quietly taking the lion’s share of the revenue on each global handset. (Intel just cannot seem to create a competitive landscape.) Qualcomm Labs is building in consumer identity and credentials onto its “platform” hoping to not only power the connected device but also own the big data behind the user. When Qualcomm demos a vision of a home of the near future, they power many of the moving pieces.
The Samsung Show
While Qualcomm’s chip and Google’s OS were the main stories in Barcelona, another key and not so silent player is Samsung. (So much so that my hotel concierge asked me if I was attending that “Samsung” show that was in town.) The word that floated above the white new-age Samsung booth was “innovation” but the innovation is not just the 3D camera or the ubiquity of the new S-Pen. The innovation was in their business model connecting their screen across the consumer journey. The 3D camera sells their tablet and television. The S-Pen and its SDK allows for ergonomic continuity across their new tablets and fablets.
Mozilla is other important story in Barcelona. Using the Firefox browser on lower-end ZTE devices to run the camera, map and . . . oh ya the browser was a definite tech-turn on. Moving the developer and more importantly the consumer out of the (Apple-invented and dominated) app store into the real world super-app is an inevitable step and fundamental to our mobile evolution. The quicker the industry can move away for relying exclusively on industrial design and the app storefront as the sales tool, the faster we will grow.
2014 Screen Wars
The most important leitmotif was the screen. Not only the proliferation of devices with new form factor and appliance, but the realization that it is in the connecting of these screen that the we can accelerate business models. Samsung, ZTE, Motorola, Nokia all address the consumer journey across all screens and throughout their day. Nearly all marketing VPs had spent their last few months and budget trying to tell this consumer story.
Again while many products had indecent “PTA”, the most important insight was not what was happening on the screen but what companies were doing to connect them seamlessly. The new battle ground this year moving into MWC 2014 will be centered around who can best manage big data, wallet credentials and identity between the screens.