I am currently in Barcelona, Spain for the 2010 edition of the Mobile World Congress. I will be trying to cover the event as I experience it, through pseudo-live-blogging articles. I also plan to produce an ePub report at the end.
After a week-end marred by flight delays, surprisingly cold weather and mild food poisoning, here I am on the Plaça d’Espanya, in one of my favorite cities in the world, about to enter the Mobile World Congress for the first time.
The first impression when you pass the gates of the Fira de Montjuic, and get your identity checked (thrice – just in case) is that the congress is huge. HUGE! Each hall could host a sizable international congress… and there are eight of those, not counting the extra halls requisitioned by companies like Nokia, Huawei or Vodafone.
A lot of the exhibitors are here to sell hardware: amplifiers, antennas and handset components, about which I know little so skipped most of the time. Instead, I tried to go through the whole exhibition in one go and try to distinguish some trends for the contents industry.
SMS, payments and platform fragmentation
So many booths seem to be dedicated to micropayments, payment solution, and billing solutions. This seems to be a very big market, both oriented towards the mobile operator business (billing, payment) and content providers (micropayments).
SMS/MMS messaging still appears to be the leading mode of messaging. Although most new UI innovation seems to be revolving around all-integrated platforms mixing e-mail and social networks for rich applications, a lot of the companies specializing in mobile communication still tout their SMS throughput.
NFC is an interesting trend. Short for “Near-Field communication”, it encompasses all the technologies allowing contactless communication between devices.
As would be expected, video is big, between the makers of DSP, video on demand, mobile TV and other similar solutions.
So much greenwashing! Every big player seems to have the obligatory part of their booth dedicated to how green they are – but mostly they limit themselves to claiming their hardware is not laden with harmful chemicals. The actual green presence is tiny and hidden in one of the most remote parts of the congress: a handful of companies selling wind turbines, solar panels and other alternative energy sources to power mobile grid. No sign of the recent trend to product and sell hardware made from recycled materials. I’ll assume these were not selling so well.
Content providers are clearly not playing here. No Time Warner, no Sony. Google is supposed to be around, but nowhere to be found. Mobile apps developers are few, too, which surprised me. So far, beyond a few companies presenting variants of geolocation systems, the apps world has eluded me at the congress.
Big platform vendors are here, however – except for the very conspicuous absence of Apple. This is a great opportunity for others to show off their development platforms. The sheer number of mobile development platforms is actually scary. Samsung just released bada, their new Operating System and associated development platform. Others seemed to be doing the same, promoting their proprietary OS and development platform as the best, most powerful and flexible.
At the other end of the spectrum, the LiMo Foundation appears to be a cross-vendor effort to build an open-source operating system for mobile, based on linux. Motorola, Panasonic, Else and Samsung seem to be on board, along with a few carriers such as Vodafone.
Win7 Phone Event
One of the large events of the day was the announcement of the new windows 7 phone. Steve Ballmer was here, and Joe Belfiore, VP of the Windows Phone programme came and explained the philosophical shift behind the Win7 Phones. In a nutshell, they wanted to revisit the User Experience of the phone and move beyond the pc metaphor. They devised a new UI made of “live tiles” which are basically concentrated aggregation of information, from a view of people (from various social networks), agenda, mail, media, etc. The goal it seems is to finally mix home and work into a single device.
update 16 Feb 2010: Paul Kwiatkowski has a good analysis of the phone’s potential path to success, along with a video of its interface.
I am not (yet) impressed and couldn’t help shake off the impression that Ballmer was a terrible speaker, and that Belfiore was a bit too much of a Steve-Jobs-wannabe in his pushy enthusiasm. But if you want to read more about the phone UI – engadget has a hands-on review.
Finally, the “are you for real?” award of the day goes to the DoCoMo team who were presenting a most interesting piece of innovation: eye-controlled earphones. Look left to play or pause, look right to fast-forward. Roll your eyes for volume control (no, not kidding…). I’m suspecting you have to cross eyes to shuffle?