Mobile World Congress: Key Takeaways
Barcelona was heaving once again this week as nearly 70,000 people descended on the Catalonian capital to visit what is regarded as the world’s biggest stage for mobile - Mobile World Congress.
All the major mobile manufacturers were exhibiting, bar Apple of course, keen to show off new devices and tout their market differentiation.
Sony unveiled what seems to be the thinnest tablet to date in the form of a waterproof Xperia Tablet Z - at 6.9mm – beating Apple‘s iPad Mini at 7.2mm. The Japanese manufacturer announced it will hit the shops in the US this Spring.
It claims the new tablet can be immersed in three feet of water for up to half an hour without getting damaged so anyone who has ever been tempted to watch TV in the bath this could be the tablet for you.
Meanwhile Nokia unveiled two new Lumia smartphones as well as two budget phones – the Nokia 105 and the 301 for more affordable internet and email access, and camera experiences inspired by Nokia Lumia smartphones - costing £13 and £55 respectively. It also focused heavily on its music service as a key differentiator and value-add for consumers.
Samsung scooped Smartphone of the Year award at the conference – beating the iPhone, HTC Droid DNA, Nokia Lumia 920 and Samsung Galaxy Note II.
However Samsung’s biggest announcement during the conference was to tell everyone the unveiling of its hotly anticipated Galaxy S4 smartphone would not take place in Barcelona in New York in March – which came as deflating news for some.
Although there was a hefty dose of stylish new gadgets on show there seemed a general consensus that this year’s show was lacking the wow factor previous years have had, emulating themes more geared around evolution rather than revolution.
This is no bad thing. A key theme among many of the brand speakers, which included Unilever, Coca-Cola, Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG) and KLM, was that mobile has reached a point of maturity. Lessons have been learned and a clearer path ahead defined, and ones in which mobile revenues can start to really shine. In fact both IHG and KLM used the conference to announce they predict their mobile revenues will soon outstrip web revenues.
Mobile payments and the use of near-field-communications (NFC) took centre stage at this year’s event – far more so than last year. There was even the chance to use NFC-enabled badge passes to enter and leave Mobile World Congress, although it was hard to ignore the irony of the fact that you couldn’t use it for entry – you still had to have a print pass and photo ID. Clearly it’s not quite there yet.
The credit card giants were out in force with Mastercard and Visa both making significant announcements about commitments to mobile payments, although all referencing the scale of the challenges ahead in embedding NFC infrastructure at scale.
MasterCard launched MasterPass, an enhanced version of its mobile wallet PayPass, while Visa announced a global partnership with Samsung and a group of technology providers that will broaden its mobile payment program and enable third parties to connect to the system.
The deal means Samsung next generation of devices will come with the NFC-enabled Visa payWave app preloaded. Visa also announced that ROAM will be the company's first mobile point-of-sale partner for the Visa Ready Program, which lets third-party technology companies, platform providers, OEMs, card manufacturers and mobile network operators incorporate Visa's mobile commerce platform through software development kits (SDKs) and APIs.
“Visa can’t do this alone” was Visa’s global head of mobile Bill Gajda’s message adding that adoption rates and usage patterns will vary by market.
Collaboration was a key theme not just among the payment companies but among the telcos. Deutsche Telekom’s CEO Rene Obermann railed against what he called “stupid” and “wrong” over-regulation of the spectrum and other major costs shouldered by mobile operators while over-the-top (OTT) providers like Whatsapp and Viber get a free ride.
However, his message was not discontent at the ways OTTs operate but that more collaboration was needed between them and telcos. He called for the regulations of mobile operators to be rebalanced to take account of the rise of OTT providers as the current status quo in which mobile operators alone shoulder all regulatory costs is “unsustainable”.
Not-for-profit browser maker Mozilla also announced its Firefox web browser is soon to be expanded to power entire mobile phones aimed at the developing world markets. The aim is to provide cheap devices using software manufacturers can use for free.
Interestingly Google’s Android had a very low profile at this year’s event apart from hosting a late-night party with Florence and the Machine and Tinnie Tempah performing.
Meanwhile Orange spoke about the need for publishers, mobile networks and advertisers to work more closely together to ensure mobile advertising is as native and seamless and relevant to the consumer as possible. But its VP of ad services Ludovic Levy also said it will be emerging markets like Africa that will close the loop between mobile, payments and advertising before Europe – a fascinating thought.
What resonated most from the event was the fact the future of mobile holds as many opportunities as it does challenges, and that it is now seen by brands as a crucial medium which can connect them to their consumers in unprecedented ways. No doubt topics like NFC and payments will be on the agenda at Mobile World Congress for several years to come, as the industry works out how to tackle the remaining barriers and develop it at scale.