Every year Mobile World Congress fills me with anticipation and excitement, the kind children feel for Christmas. The world's largest mobile tradeshow has a legacy of launching new shiny things to touch and play with. That exclusive sneak peek aura is further fueled by 'pictures not allowed' posters strapped to every display. We're looking into the future here and talking to some of the brightest minds in the most disruptive and impactful technology revolution in the last ten years. And this year didn't disappoint. The show itself provided the usual array of news and views from across the mobile ecosystem - everything from device manufacturers and service providers to software developers and platform providers.
Reflecting on my time at MWC 2013, here is a round-up of some of the key trends and highlights from my perspective:
Once again, 4G was a popular topic, with operators now dealing with the reality of LTE after years of speculation. Intel GM Hermann Eul predicted* at MWC that 3G technologies are still growing and expected to peak in 2016, while the ramp up of LTE will be faster than past technologies. But nobody is writing off the low end markets which are still heavily populated with non-smart phones and companies are still keen to advertise that they are launching the old with the new. Nokia Asha was front and centre on their booth alongside the latest and greatest Lumia.
Devices, devices, devices:
Of course, much attention is devoted to the latest smart devices and this year's show certainly provided consumers and business users with plenty to consider when they decide it is time for an upgrade. Both Huawei, with the Ascend P2, and HTC, with the HTC One, made plays to secure the position of third place in the smartphone race, after market leaders Samsung and Apple. However, one of the key trends is the rise of the 'phablet' (seriously, does anyone really like this word?) - a development indicative of the increasing fragmentation occurring across the mobile sector. Essentially a cross between a smartphone and a tablet, 'phablets', such as Samsung's Galaxy Note 8.0 and the LG Optimus G Pro, come with various dimensions and specifications, and stand to give brands one more thing to think about when designing new apps and websites.
Further evidence of market fragmentation came when Mozilla announced both the handset manufacturers and operators have signed up support Firefox OS. While iOS and Android have dominated the mobile OS space for quite some time, challenges from Windows Phone 8 and BlackBerry 10, not to mention niche players such as Ubuntu and Firefox OS, show that no one can afford to be complacent. As a result of this increased competition, content providers, and any organisation wanting to connect with end-users via the web, will need to work even harder to ensure compatibility with as many technologies as possible, thereby creating a universal web experience for all.
What's next for NFC and BYOD:
Mobile technologies are altering many aspects of both our personal and professional lives - Near Field Communications (NFC) and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) are two potentially game changing trends that have been attracting attention for a while now. An increasing proportion of the workforce are engaging in remote working (Yahoo exempt), and BYOD is an issue that IT departments are still trying to figure out. Samsung addressed security concerns around BYOD with a new system called Knox. The Android based system allows IT admins to keep employee's personal and work data separate by operating at the application layer level - an approach Samsung says will counter the threat of data leakage, viruses and malware attacks. (Blackberry announced a similar approach in the new OS10 just a few weeks before Mobile World Congress 2013).
NFC promises to make both financial and data transactions as simple as using an Oyster Card on the London Underground. MasterCard had one of the key announcements in this area, claiming that its expanded digital wallet service actually moves beyond NFC, supporting QR codes, traditional credit cards and other ways to make payments. In addition, around the show NFC had a strong presence, allowing visitors with compatible handsets to use them to confirm their credentials to secure entrance and secure useful conference information from NFC-enabled posters. Expect to see more from this technology as an increasing number of device manufacturers fit chips into their products to help creating more exciting and immersive experiences for users and for brands to get creative and innovative.
These highlights are just a small selection of what MWC 2013 had to offer, chosen because they all touch on the key issues currently affecting the mobile sector - I could go on and on about some of the cool stuff the smaller companies and start-ups were talking about. While niche today, the innovative work these guys are doing with software, content and UI stands to be a key market disruptor tomorrow - Augmented Reality (AR), wearable tech and next gen interfaces, such as touch-less screens, were all on show and up for discussion. However, I think I'll turn over to you at this point - what were your stand-out moments from this year's show? Let us know in the comments.
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