This year’s Mobile World Congress seemed less frenetic than the last (seemed to be less dancers). Perhaps this was due to it being CIC’s second visit. However there also seemed to be less major announcements and less that was very new. Phones, wearables, cars and connected appliances had all been seen before and we’re getting used to seeing many of them at other events. That Volvo had a launch (of a cloud service) did stand out amongst the vast number of events that we were invited to. We should say many thanks to all those that provided invites to meetings or briefings. It is quite overwhelming in the run up to MWC and impossible to see everyone or even reply to everyone. As with last year there was something interesting happening on almost every stand.
Not so much for developers this year
It was good to see some of the US companies using MWC as a platform to launch new products and services. This is something that has been increasing in the last couple of years and very welcomed as they tend to save all the good announcements for home events. Last year there were some very clear takeaways from the event, especially for developers. This year it was far less, instead the big news was more about products.
That said the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA), who we covered in last year’s MWC review, launched its developer toolkit. As an organisation that promotes standards within the mobile (and now the Internet of Things) industry the OMA’s purpose is commended. Some of these standards are actually in use every day, we just may not realise it. The toolkit though goes a long way to articulating better what the OMA does and how developers can engage with the standards. It is great that they have put in the work to build and launch this.
The software vendors were certainly visible at this year’s show, with Microsoft putting in its first public appearance in place of Nokia (whose phone business Microsoft acquired but who was also still there a few stands down). IBM are becoming a stalwart of the show and this year showed off its new IBM+Apple apps. It also hosted its own special event in one of the theatres which I was fortunate to play a part in, moderating the customer discussion (more on this later). However there was nothing new from many of the vendors, just reinforcement of existing products or future products. Microsoft’s news was instead around hardware but at the low end of the market. Unfortunately MWC came a little too early as Microsoft will be saving most of the good stuff for the Windows 10 debut later in the year.
Watch out Apple!
Aside from the new S6 phone Samsung were relatively quiet this year. However, opposite them Huawei were the surprise stars of the week with the new Huawei Watch. Along with their neighbours (speaking in terms of stands) LG, Huawei launched a watch that actually looks like the type of watch most people buy e.g. round with an analogue (looking) face. It was not so much the device that surprised but the marketing around it which looked very much like something from a European fashion brand.
The Chinese may have learnt something from the wearables that have gone before and actually stolen a march on Apple, whose device is left looking very digital watch like in comparison. LG’s Watch Urbane range took a similar approach but I think Huawei took the headlines because it was such a surprising reveal from them.
A time for calm reflection
Aside from the watches 2015 may be a year of consolidation within mobile and even IoT. So much “new” has been released in the last 18 months in this space that perhaps the show reflects a need to allow customers to catch their breath. Businesses and consumers are left trying to work out what the options are and what they need. There is a real danger that the industry is running so far ahead of where many of their business customers are today. IBM’s event was a clear reflection of this, there was a major focus on customer stories rather than new products and services. This allows others to understand where the market is, what the opportunities are and to understand what companies like IBM are offering them and how they can derive value from it.
A further issue might be that the show has become so large that announcements are simply lost in the information overload. Certainly people have brought news to my attention that was revealed at MWC but which I completely missed and as analysts we were probably better briefed than most. It is no surprise the big guys like Samsung and HTC showcase new products in advance and often launch on Sunday (MWC starts on Monday). The scale continues to put a strain on Barcelona. Getting around takes a lot of time and by taxi costs a lot of money. The city really needs to invest in hotel rooms close to the venue which seems to be surrounded by dead space. At some point, lack of affordable and easily accessible accommodation, may very well limit what MWC can provide and perhaps even stop people going.
A glance into the future
That said GSMA do a great job in putting together such a giant show with so many diverse participants. While most people’s eyes are on the main event at Fira Gran Via it is worth mentioning that there is smaller side event called 4YFN (4 Years From Now) focused on start-ups. This event has a very different feel with beer gardens and rock music playing. The stands here are small, in some cases more podiums than stands. What stood out for me is that while the vibe might suggest companies building the next Twitter or Angry Birds the majority of start-ups had far more serious aims. Where you might expect to find kids in jeans and t-shirts there are more middle-aged folks in suits, I even saw one young guy wearing a tie.
To me this reflects a broader change in the start-up community from people trying to be the next Facebook to wanting to be the next Salesforce. The enterprise has replaced the individual as the target audience. Perhaps the companies on show at 4FYN have outgrown the youth culture vibe?
The calm before the storm
For CIC it was great this year to see so many friends in Barcelona and to meet some new interesting organisations. A first visit to MWC is a bit like going to Disneyland for the first time. It’s quite overwhelming with so much to try and see. Our second visit seemed far calmer and focused. The feeling of this year being a chance to reinforce refined messages and products rather than big glitzy new offerings is something that MWC had in common with the previous week’s IBM InterConnect. One can’t help but feel that we are in the calm before a storm.
We stand on the precipice of maturing mobile strategies and a shift in focus from consumer IoT to Industrial IoT. Organisations are beginning to come to grips with mobile, cloud and to a lesser extent even IoT. At the same time vendor products, platforms and devices are maturing. We saw this in the customer stories which told of companies getting the basics in place before moving on from a position of agility and confidence. One senior exec in a major EMM vendor said that iOS, Android and Windows Phone had reached parity in terms of being enterprise ready. And then of course there will be the Apple Watch and Windows 10 very soon.
2016 could be very exciting and MWC16 (22-25 February 2016) could be even bigger (if Barcelona can handle that).