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MWC: Inscrutable slogans, Google toys and the invisible Apple

'Claw grab' game + humbled, eager Nokia = A real treat

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MWC 2012 I go to Mobile World Congress every year and come home bemused. A few observations to explain.

I don't get marketing

As you walk around the booths of Barcelona you read names, marketing slogans and brief descriptions of services offered. Mainly you leave none the wiser, even after repeating the process over several days. What's wrong with these people? Are their products so confusing they can’t be explained? In which case why have a booth? If your product is so exotic that only a subset of people get it, surely there’s a more effective way of reaching customers. Here's a sample of slogans – see if you can guess who the company is and what they do (answers at the end):

  • Making data beautiful
  • Innovation assured
  • Mobilise the possibilities
  • Applying thought
  • Accelerating mobile revenuization (my favourite)
  • A universe of connected applications
  • A wonderful world
  • Accelerating the connected world

The list goes on and on. It would certainly make it easier to the layman if the GSMA mandated a standard format for booth descriptions, although at the cost of a few PR employees probably.

Get behind the barricades

La Fira is a large conference showground with pretty sizeable walls and double security checks. In previous years some companies have booked hotels and rooms outside the complex to host their presence but these didn't seem in evidence this year. It might just have been a practical decision as student protestors barred the exit road – forcing us to scuttle out the back door. But it also seemed to reflect the industry's state of mind.

While business was being done and parties held it seemed as if comfort was being taken that all was all right with the world. The world inside was resolutely mobile-only; nobody asked difficult questions or pointed out that phone calls, text-based messaging and the internet is available in other formats and through different connections and we’d better join up nicely. That’s OK maybe if you sell radio towers or power amplifiers but not if you deal with data services. Putting on blinkers is not a good corporate strategy.

Mobile content must pay its way

Apparently this was said on a panel of industry leaders from the larger carriers. What! When are you going to realise that life doesn't work this way? That bird has flown.

By all means get your business model sorted out but also be aware of potential business models that other companies adopt. If you make data pipes then customers expect to carry content over them. So work that in to your plan. If you want to create your own mobile content offerings, that's cool. But don't expect independent content owners to directly pay for your pipes. There would be uproar if you even try. Move on.

RCS will enable carriers to combat OTT services

More blinkers. Apparently this means that the emerging Rich Communication Suite 5.0 standard will allow mobile operators to compete better against the Over The Top (ie, not a mobile operator) service providers. So Google, Skype, Facebook et al will be worried? Competitors aren’t scared of a three letter acronym, carriers won’t co-operate and there’s no revenue model. Doomed.

Beware of shiny baubles

Google came to the show with a nice, large area dedicated to Android. It had a slide.

It had ice creams in the shape of a robot.
It had 86 different robot badges to collect.
It had a claw grab game to pick up a cuddly robot.
What it didn't have was any mention of searching or advertising, ie, how it makes money.

Android is an interesting and useful addition to the handset market but it isn't how money is made. What it does is safeguard how Google makes money by helping to get distribution and lock other companies away from its ecosystem.

So instead of working out how to compete directly and get some of this, we had the sight of a long line of distracted mobile executives waiting patiently to try to grab a cuddly toy, then running off to play hunt the badge, while eating ice cream. You have to be impressed how Google do it.

The invisible elephant

One company which wasn't there was Apple. Not only that but NOBODY mentioned it. I didn't see a single iPhone on a stand, no carriers made iPhone announcements or trumpeted how they were working together. NOTHING. We spotted several examples of iPhone apps which had been cut and pasted onto Android handsets but that doesn't count.

Considering Apple is bigger than any company at the show and makes the #1 smartphone in the world with the best ecosystem, as well as having the most apps and the sexiest tablet, it seemed extraordinary it could be ignored to that degree. It's like having a conference on oil exploration in the Middle East and not mentioning Saudi Arabia, or discussing global manufacturing without talking about China.

Being that blinkered takes real willpower.

Who impressed me

Am I on a bandwagon if I say Nokia and Microsoft? Once mighty yet recently humbled tech giants come up with nice kit and are eager to please. Could be a winner, especially the last part.

I also enjoyed seeing Mozilla there. Open Web Devices look a long shot but in a world where it's nearly all Linux kernels underneath and HTML5 on top why not? And no scary privacy issues too!

So to 2012

My prediction is sadly more of the same, the industry continuing in a slow downward spiral towards being a nice data pipe and not understanding the services that run over them. If that happens they should split the show in two: one half dealing with mobile-only infrastructure and then join the remaining apps & services piece to a different conference covering internet services.

I say this as a prediction but not as a hope. I hope they finally figure out data services and either work out how to do some really good ones or how to support other people making even better ones. Carriers have some great assets that the internet players would love to have, but they certainly aren't being made available correctly yet.

If they achieve this my bemusement might abate. The industry is huge, it serves billions of customers, yet it refuses to see the big picture. I’ll go back in 2013 though and check on them again. ®

Ed Moore is Partner, Ocasta Labs, a developer of mobile-optimised internet software.

Bootnote

Oh and the slogan answers are:

Making data beautiful Comptel. They have a section on their website to explain the branding!

Innovation assured Acision SMS & MMS Gateways

Mobilise the possibilities Sybase 365 Mobile messaging

Applying thought Wipro Offshore software development

Accelerating mobile revenuization EliteCore OSS/BSS (what?)

A universe of connected applications Jide RCS (there it is again)

A wonderful world Zain Mobile carrier

Accelerating the connected world Tektronix Test, measurement & monitoring equipment

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

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