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MWC 2015: Connecting the last mile – Mobile's maturity shines


There is a wealth of news coming out of the GSMA Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2015 in Barcelona, Spain again this year. Attendance levels are sure to hit well into the 90,000 range of visitors as the week progresses based on the initial few days so far. MWC is absolutely proving itself to be a leading, global event for mobile and with mobile's rise in importance that is saying quite a lot. We've seen the maturing of the mobile world into what is truly a discussion of the impact of the mobile economy - access, connectivity, and devices to meet the needs of more and more people across the globe. MWC keynotes and pannelist from leading companies like Google and Facebook remind us that how we as an industry get devices and access to the mobile economy into the hands of more people will move us from a mobile economy to what Mark Zuckerberg, CEO Facebook, calls "The Knowledge Economy," and that is driven by technology and smart devices.

What you'll wear matters

The last few years watching the wearable device unveilings at International CES and MWC we have all lamented the lack of attention to design, the form-and-function meeting that had escaped clunky, awkward devices that while offering cool, new features were really unappealing to most consumers, especially anyone with a smaller build. Now the fierce competition we have seen in the smartphone and handset consumer electronics (CE) markets has really ignited in wearables (thankfully and finally!).

At MWC on Sunday especially, we saw an exciting range of new wearable devices unveiled initiating the competition that will come from Apple when they release their AppleWatch next month. Huawei is one among the highly competitive, market leaders showcasing their watch, the TalkBand B2 / N1 marketed as a "smarter living" device, underscoring the expanding reach of mobile from the phone to a central device hub for consumers. Clearly, Huawei is moving forward with their strategic market goalsstrategic market goals of challenging global giants such as Samsung and Apple (see our recent Smith MarketWatch Quarterly article exploring "A New IoT World Order").

Of course, there are many, many more wearables being unveiled and demonstrated here at MWC. What is more interesting and important than a tally of the devices and OEMs promoting their wearable device innovations, is the movement of these devices into the central role that smartphones have held to date. With this more seamless and ubiquitous device relationship for the user, wearables have an opportunity for significant market growth and real innovative user-interface and Internet of Everything (IoE) or Internet of Things (IoT) dominance. There will have to be a hub through which various devices and applications are accessed, given the rapidly expanding and feature-rich capabilities that various wearables, such as the new set of smart watches, hold, we expect this is just the beginning of the next mobile device revolution.

Mobile goes high- and mid-tier

Many mobile leaders have presented over the last two days offering their contributions to the high-end smartphone competition. That race heated up with Samsung's Galaxy S6 line up release in addition to the Samsung Pay system which directly targets the Apple iPhone and ApplePay releases last fall. These are Samsung's device follow-ons to their fall release of the phablets that did not fare as well as anticipated. With a new mobile strategy in the product line up, and with device upgrades to address CE feature demands, Samsung presented these latest devices to show that the company is still in the flagship smartphone race. That moment is good for all of us becuase competition breeds innovation.

As with previous years though, MWC is not just about flagship devices. Importantly, mid- and low-priced devices hold a prominent position here, and thankfully so. To address the issue of access and devices that are both improved and geared toward delivering excellent mobile experiences in price ranges that span the global mid-market tiers, we saw a number of compelling releases and strategies. There are almost too many to name as this mid-range tier is no longer the domain of Nokia, long the leader in recognizing the opportunity for extending mobile into middle and low-priced ranges globally. While the proliferation of devices priced for the expanding global consumers is very important and creates real market opportunities, it is the access to mobile connectivity that is the real battlefront. For example, we note Sony's explicit move to provide devices for an array of consumers and shying away from the highest-priced tiers.

Access is the next challenge

The maturing of the smartphone market is seen through the growing commoditization of smartphone and mobile devices. This device expansion further opens the question of access to the connectivity that drives the mobile economy and turns a mundane handset into a true smart device. We are seeing that there is a real focus on access expansion to include consumers who previously have not had internet connectivity. Both Mark Zuckerberg, CEO Facebook, and Sundar Pichai, SVP of products at Google, underscored the importance of access to connectivity as a critical element today (see Facebook's action for "The Knowledge Economy"). Pichai discussed Google's mobile strategy in his Monday MWC Extra Session Extra Session, stating: "I think we are at the stage when it's important to think about hardware, software and connectivity together."

Mobile World Live summed up the key elements of these discussions:

In general, Google and Facebook are both seeking ways to connect more people in developing regions of the world, although the two internet giants are taking very different approaches.

While Facebook is focusing on the project to bring free online services to users through collaborations with mobile operators, Google is engaging in large-scale projects to explore some highly futuristic ways of providing internet access to areas with little or no access.

As MWC continues for another couple of days, we will hear more about the direction and growth of the mobile economy. One thing is certain, as these sessions and keynotes illustrate, MWC is not just a mobile device show, it is a serious forum for exploring, extending and challenging the growing mobile economy worldwide, working now to open discussions regarding access and opportunities for both consumers and for the industry.

Lisa Ann Cairns, Ph.D.
Written on Tuesday, 03 March 2015 21:31 by Lisa Ann Cairns, Ph.D.

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