It's that time of the year: the pilgrimage to the Mobile Mecca, Mobile World Congress (MWC), in Barcelona. This is my 10th pilgrimage in a row and, needless to say, the event has changed tremendously over the past few years - from 3GSM in Cannes to the new venue in Barcelona this year.
While CTIA is still very US-centric and CES is still a lot about TVs, MWC is really the only global mobile event with a strong presence of operators and handset manufacturers from all over the world. Every year the show becomes not only more global, but also more open to new categories of players - such as advertisers and developers - willing to make the most of mobile technologies, and more open to connected devices that go far beyond the traditional definition of a mobile phone.
Markets are colliding and mobile innovation is at the centre of these upheavals. MWC used to be a telecom show focusing mainly on mobile technologies but the event is now bringing together people from every industry.
In the light of today's first announcements, here is my take on how to put in perspective the announcements to be made at MWC 2013 in the coming days:
- Smartphones for the masses and global mobile innovation. We're only entering the second wave of smartphone adoption. Forrester expects an installed base of 3 billion smartphones by end 2017. Most of the growth will come from developing economies in Asia, Latin America, and Africa, where people's first digital experiences will be mobile. That's why we'll see a lot of headlines about Mozilla's announcement that it has persuaded 18 mobile network operators and four mobile phone makers to back its open-source mobile operating system, Firefox OS. Why? Operators backing Firefox OS (such as Telefonica, China Unicom, Telenor, and Etisalat) have a strong presence in these regions. ZTE and Huawei (alongside Alcatel One Touch and LG) are among the device manufacturers backing the initiative
Does it matter? Yes, because these players ship a lot of devices. Huawei announced today that they had shipped 32 million smartphones in 2012 (+60% yoy). Consequently, do not expect Firefox OS devices in the US or in the UK before 2014. The longer-term question is about Mozilla's ability to replicate what it achieved in the PC desktop space. Back in 2003, few people believed that an open source web browser built by a tiny non-profit would stand a chance to beat a giant like Microsoft at its own game. Has Firefox OS a chance to challenge the Android/Apple duopoly? Despite the impressive line-up of carriers' CEOs at the Mozilla press conference, it will require more than support from telcos. More handset makers and more developers and third parties need to embrace the trend. This is a good reminder though, that innovation will increasingly come outside of the US and Europe and from open web standards. The ability to search both within apps and the web at the same time on Firefox OS is a great addition - that highlights the growing importance of the mobile web globally
- Beyond smartphones - mobile platforms are at the centre of digital disruption and will transform every industry. Last year we saw the emergence of "phablets" and this year we'll see more and more device manufacturers announce tablets and other connected devices at MWC. Today, Samsung did not announce a new flagship Samsung Galaxy S4 but a new tablet - the "Galaxy Note 8" to re-establish itself as a player in the mid-size tablet market to compete with the iPad mini. Mobile operating platforms already extend beyond phones to tablets.
They will soon extend to wearable devices, TVs, cars, and other "machines". That's why we'll hear about the connected home, cars and objects. Expect a lot of announcements and innovation as well around mobile payments and mobile health. A couple of months ago, I stated in a report "How To Start Bridging The Mobile Monetization Gap" that mobile will be more disruptive than the Web. I really believe the mobile revolution will inevitably transform your business in the next decade. And this transformation will happen more quickly with mobile than it did with the Web because mobile has unique realities that will help close the monetization gap. This uniqueness bridges the physical and digital worlds, accelerating innovation, time-to-market, and market growth
Sign up for Computerworld eNewsletters.