Ten to watch from MWC Barcelona

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1. Android says hello

With Google's Android being touted as the most important platform in decades, it would have been good to see more of it on display. What we did see, however, was quite a breakthrough. That was HTC's Magic phone, powered by Android and offered exclusively in Europe by Vodafone. For Google to lure in one of the largest but slower-moving operators is something of a coup.

Dave Catt, HTC's acting country manager for UK and Ireland, pointed out that Opera was the key browser for HTC, with Android adding value to the product range. He suggested that Vodafone and T-Mobile would share the same Android app shop.

Some visitors reported seeing other Android phones – or prototypes, at least – from the likes of Huawei, NVIDIA and General Mobile. If so, the manufacturers weren't exactly using megaphones to draw attention to themselves.

Huawei did, however, announce its planned release of an Android phone under the brand of a thus far unnamed partner. Samsung has delayed its plans for an Android launch. The buzz is that more manufacturers will follow suit as the open-source Android gains favour with users and operators and demonstrates that it can compete with the money-spinning iPhone.

The LiMo open source consortium announced new members and showed some LiMo-powered phones but did little to steal Android's thunder.

2. Location, location, location

Two phrases were being spoken in the same breath at Barcelona: "location-based services" and "social networking".

A number of collaborative GPS-based services were introduced at MWC, with the tie-up between Garmin and Asus (for the new Nuvifone) among the forerunners. Just about every manufacturer is now including navigation. Unlike last year, however, when manufacturers were pushing navigation in its own right, this year they were making a big deal out of the way navigation has been integrated with the other core functions of the device.

Location-aware devices are going to exploit the phenomenon of social networking. Contextual relevance is the impetus for the development of smart, useful services from the application designers. Hardly surprising – mobile social networks are forecast to enjoy massive growth, from 15 million users last year to 600 million by 2012.

By combining location and social networking, the mobile industry will be able to tempt advertisers with reliable profiling from a very extensive and rich source of consumer information, as well as precise targeting at the mobile consumer market.

Among the navigation partnerships worth following, Nokia and Lonely Planet have teamed up to distribute Lonely Planet content via Nokia Maps, and LBS developer UbiEs has announced a partnership with Aepona – supplier of telecom service layer products and solutions to Telcos – to market a family application based on Navteq maps.

3. Navigate me to my friends

Apart from Nokia, which is going it alone, the move is towards manufacturers joining forces with software authors to provide effective navigation. That's well and good since everyone except Motorola puts GPS in their new phones. But it begs the question of just how useful GPS can be in Europe where there is marked absence of Assisted GPS (A-GPS), although Garmin runs A-GPS on its server.

That question aside, Nokia's new Ovi suite includes maps that won praise from those who test-drove them in Barcelona. The general trend, though, is for manufacturers to seek navigation partners. Hence, for example, we have LG getting into bed with deCarta for LBS and Appello for its Wisepilot navigation and local search software. LG will also embed GyPSii's location-enabled mobile digital lifestyle application, including maps, and it has selected Intrinsyc's Destinator to provide navigation and LBS on a cross-platform set of models running Android, Symbian or Windows. HTC meanwhile is partnering with ALK to include Co-Pilot on Windows-based phones.

A lot more can still be done in the area of pedestrian navigation. If Google were to buy or license Open Street Map, then they would have a clear advantage over Nokia and Navteq. The fight over map quality and evolution will take place between two sets of adversaries – Google, Teleatlas, Apple and Blom in one corner, and Nokia, Navteq, MSN and Digital Globe in the other.

4. Advertising reaches past the hype

It's been a while coming but mobile advertising does seem poised to gain ground after years of shouting about what it was supposed to achieve. The feeling from MWC, however, is that players like Google will exploit their Web dominance to gain the major share of mobile ad revenue.

More than 30 companies at MWC were offering solutions to tap into the mobile advertising market, predicted to be worth US$12 billion by 2011 (compared with the current world market of US$640 billion for all advertising). It was Apple that gave mobile advertising a shove in the right direction by allowing ads to be inserted in widgets downloaded from its app store. A recent KPMG survey shows that 48 percent of marketing and advertising executives believe location-based advertising is the best opportunity for mobile.

Some industry collaborations were announced, so it's likely we can expect more partnerships to arise in the hunt for mobile ad money. Microsoft Advertising announced no fewer than eight mobile partners. But the mood is still cautious, accompanied by murmurings about the need to make it location-based. As Vittorio Colao, CEO of Vodafone, said at the congress: "While we all believe in mobile advertising, we have to recognize that it hasn't taken off as quickly as expected."

5. Services with a shared smile

Although some of the big players announced their own app stores, it's likely that an increasing number of manufacturers and operators will form alliances to compete with the Internet giants like Google. Manufacturers and operators may bump heads about the branding of app stores, but they may have to co-operate if they are to hold ground against the mighty.

Nokia (with its Ovi), Microsoft (with Windows Marketplace for Mobile) and China Mobile announced their proprietary app stores at MWC but others like Garmin and RIM have announced application galleries, suggesting the same effort in providing personalised experience without the burden of setting up billing infrastructures. Almost simultaneously, T-Mobile announced that its new widget store would run on some Nokia phones, and Sony Ericsson and 3 started trumpeting their planned venture for a Facebook-optimised phone. These launches are all intended to compete with Apple's iStore as well as the big Internet companies. So are the free app galleries which are on the cards from Garmin, RIM and HTC.

Some may see the launch of Nokia's Ovi store without the partnership of Orange or Vodafone as a sign that the manufacturers are taking control of services. Others may argue that the carriers will have enough clout to impose their own branding and insert their own apps – especially in the USA, where the operators have a plenty of clout.

Behind the hype about app shops, a quieter trend has begun in the environment the mobile phone is creating. Google, Yahoo!, Palm and Windows 6.5 will all require a login as a first step in the user experience. This will enable the phone to create an environment integrating photos, sms, calls, contacts, locations, social networks, and so on. At the same time, this environment will gather information about the user's interests and behaviour, then feed more pertinent answers into the search results.

Nimbuzz MIR developer Geoff Casely believes a lot of secondary players will try sell to third party apps. One of the men who makes independent authoring of apps possible is Alex Linde, Head of Blueprint SDK development at Yahoo! He comments, "For a stand-alone app, you send your xml and Blueprint will turn it into what you want, a webpage, a widget or a stand alone application". This will prove very effective for brands that want to create an online interaction platform using their customer loyalty information.

6. Meet me on Facebook

Social networking rules, OK? Palm has recognised this with its elegant incorporation of Facebook in its Centro device. Palm earns a salute for the beautifully executed user interface and the ease with which the user can pull in Facebook contacts.

This looks like the start of a trend the others will inevitably have to follow. Next up may be the joint undertaking by Sony Ericsson and 3 to launch their Facebook phone.

7. Smart phones for smart ad revenue

Smart phones will be the profitable phones for the manufactures and the carriers who want to make money from LBS, navigation and, especially, advertising. That's the word from Barcelona. If you want to earn advertising money, offer a phone that does what an iPhone can do.

Acer announced its anticipated entry into the smart phone market by showing eight of its 10 planned smart phones at MWC. They will enter the market with the brand name of Tempo.

HTC, Sony Ericsson, Motorola, Nokia and Samsung are also working on smart phone projects. The current global economy is not expected to significantly dampen the consumer demand for such devices.

8. Mobile enterprise

Blackberry could set a trend after MWC. It has seen the opportunities for enterprise solutions in the mobile market.

Jim Balsillie, co-CEO of Research in Motion, told MWC delegates that some of the largest companies in the world are looking at the advantages of giving their employees Blackberry devices. "Once social networking becomes a B2B phenomenon – not unlike IM and testing – I believe every single social-networking user will want a data plan," he said.

He warned that carriers may soon be faced with the option of becoming either "pipes" or "platforms". Blackberry is making itself both by offering a managed service that integrates Web services and desktop applications in its handsets. Expect others to follow.

9. Cool phones of the year

Some visitors were disappointed by what they saw as an absence of new phones at WMC. What was on show, however, included some appetizing items. While HTC Magic and Android probably drew the most attention, other phones that generally won praise from visitors included:

  • Palm Pre, complete with magnetic induction charger, and probably the pin-up choice for most people.
  • Samsung OmniaHD… although this one also brought out some adverse comments about its interface.
  • Sony Ericsson Idou, boasting a 12 megapixel camera and to be released with a new Symbian operating system.
  • HTC Diamond2 and Touch Pro2, neither of them willing to step back completely for the Magic.
  • Samsung Memoir and Nokia N86, both with 8 megapixel cameras.
  • Garmin Asus Nuvifone, which should deliver A-GPS!

10. Take my hand…

If you thought we were listing these trends in order of importance, think again! Much of the future prosperity of the mobile industry will be vitally dependent on partnerships. We've left the announcements of some of these alliances to the end so that we can wrap this up with a brief summary of some new partnerships.

  • Garmin and GyPSii (Asus) for navigation
  • LG and Destinator (Intrinsyc), deCarta, Wisepilot (Appello) and Gypsii
  • Microsoft with eFinancialNews and Private Equity; El Mundo Deportivo; Le Parisien.fr; Le Post.fr; La Vanguardia; and WAYN, for mobile advertising. The carriers are Mobistar (Orange) and BASE
  • Nokia and Lonely Planet (through Nokia Maps) for navigation
  • Sony Ericsson and 3 for a Facebook-optimised phone

Refer also Johan Fagerberg's report on MWC:Movers & shakers in the LBS industry


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