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Mobilising World Congress

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MWC We're into the third day of Mobile World Congress, the annual shindig of the mobile industry, and now that the urgent meetings are over and the big news has been released, talk turns to the state of the industry - and the state of the congress itself.

Attendance is down around 25 per cent, which is being heralded as a good thing - quality being more important than quantity - and the more relaxed feeling of the show is reinforced by the occasional gap amongst the booths for a no-show company. But most of the usual suspects are here, along with the now-usual absences in the form of Android/Google and Apple.

Google do have a number of meeting rooms, hidden away, but their presence on the floor is proxy'd by the few Android handsets on show, and the OS being on everyone's lips. Much of the talk here is about operating systems: executives who 2 months ago had no idea what an operating system was are arguing the pros and cons of interpreted languages and strong typing, more often displaying their own lack of knowledge than contributing to the debate.

Android is the talk of the town - an industry-friendly version of the iPhone that allows people other than Apple to make money. Despite the lack of hardware, it's being accepted as the most important platform in decades. LiMo are desperately beating the drum for feature phones and emphasising their democratic nature at every turn, while Symbian keeps pointing out they've got millions of handsets and tens of thousands of applications already, but no-one is listening. Microsoft is being dismissed by almost everyone and is starting to elicit the kind of sympathy not seen since IBM were the big bad guys back in the early 80s - well, perhaps not quite that much.

What Microsoft does have in common with just about everyone else exhibiting in Barcelona is a lack of products. From the Palm Pre to the various Android handsets and Windows 6.5, nothing is available yet. Everything is coming really soon. At Mobile World Congress, one expects to see new handsets, but we generally see them launched, with schedules, carriers, and availability dates. This year only the very biggest manufacturers have managed that. Most are showing handsets, products, and technologies that they're hoping to bring out later this year - depending on how the money flows over the next few months.

The economy is also being widely discussed. It would be surprising if it weren't, with growth in handset sales expected to curtail rapidly and predictions of falling sales abounding. Smartphones might prove resistant, thanks to increased consumer interest, but that will be at the cost of feature phones.

It is certainly consumers that matter these days: While previous years have seen a steady trickle of business applications aimed at the enterprise, 2009 has seen the rise of the consumer as a buyer of mobile applications, so everything is aimed at the punter on the street rather than his, now bankrupt, banker.

Conversely, this is the first Mobile World Congress not to feature an adult zone, for the purveyors of one-handed wap material. We've not been able to identify the driver behind this particular trend: We're not aware of the credit crunch driving the purveyors of mobile porn out of business, so perhaps they've just signed up the network operators and have no reason to make the trek out of Barcelona. For this year at least. ®

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