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Reflections on MWC 2013: let the service battle commence

Mark Curtis

MWC tour

This year’s show promised a ‘new mobile horizon’ and with a reported 72,000+ attendees and an exhibition space of more than 1 million square meters, it is clear that mobile is the future. With many companies exhibiting there for the first time – Ford and Go Pro being notable examples – and a shift towards service-led offerings, the show could soon easily be renamed the Digital World Congress.

Our tours of the show (which we have upgraded from an informal idea to a twice daily 90 minute sprint) proved to be an enormous success and below is a recap of the highlights and our thoughts on what this means for the world of mobility. Several Fortune 50 executives claimed it was the best-spent 90 minutes at MWC.

Go Pro is the first example of a mainstream wearables device. It’s fast becoming an iconic electronics company and could easily become the next iPod as it carves out a service business that has huge mass-market appeal. They have intelligently aligned themselves with an exciting lifestyle and high production value. The result is a relatively simple concept that people love. GoPro also seems to understand that the smartphone is the hub and that its devices must act in concert with them as well as the tablet ecosystems. Could a play into video editing be their next move?

Yota is pioneering the transition to the second screen with its smartphone that features an e-ink second display on the back of the device. This expansion into twin screens feels like a worthy attempt to make all the services a user needs finally omnipresent and easily available. We’ve already been thinking about what new services might be enabled when a low power always-on display became available on a smartphone; technology like this reinforces our belief that designing for context is even more critical.

The industry epi-center is clearly held by Samsung, which now has a leading device for every form factor and price point. With an emerging sense of loyalty and trust from consumers, the Korean giant could become ‘the new Nokia’. Samsung is now moving confidently and quickly into services as well. But their challenge is two-fold: acquire users, and then earn the right to monetise them. They may find it tough, and for industry veterans it could feel like ‘Club Nokia’ all over again.

Nokia is pushing harder into lower price points with the new $15 handset that will bring the next billion users into the mobile age. Nokia is the digital Coca-Cola and it will be interesting to see how the race at the bottom end of the handset market pans out. Android has already made significant waves in this space but in the end the winner will be the manufacturer who can offer the best experience on this new breed of low-end devices.

Yet the most interesting player in the handset business is the tiny Geeksphone, founded by a 20 year old Spanish entrepreneur (he started building phones aged 17!). The elegant simplicity of the low-cost Firefox OS-based handset caught our eye and while the giants may dismiss it as a fad, Go Pro endured a similar fate in its early days (and look where Go Pro is today). With accessible, new and open technology, developers are likely to follow en mass. This is certainly one to watch.

Ubuntu is the most popular open source Linux OS, so its move into the mobile space is big news. Their slick UI introduced some novel ways to use touch by leveraging the edge of the display for actions. It is now very clear that the future will include at least one new major OS that has connectivity at its core.

Sony is back: their new device is ultra-thin, fast, and integrates photos into video while recording. Their hardware development is still done in Japan and the attention to detail shows. If Samsung stumbles, Sony will be waiting in the wings – although, while the hardware pieces may well be in place, the service story at Sony needs a lot of investment.

HTC touted a universal remote control for the connected home as its innovation. Perhaps not so novel in our view, but very useful and well done and in the end they have put all their eggs in a basket called the HTC One, and it paid off. It was our overall favourite – stunning feel and build quality, the small details combining curves and hard surfaces making it the most beautiful phone in display.

It’s clear the likes of Huawei and ZTE are in a copying frenzy yet the real excitement from these Chinese manufactures is yet to come. We’re looking forward to seeing more innovation from these giants.

All of this hints at something significant. The new norm of iOS and Android is being challenged and a mobile storm is on the horizon. Everyone is talking about mobility and connectivity, and services are fast becoming the new battleground for competition. The next 12 months promises to be an exciting time in the world of mobility and we’ll be keeping a close eye on these trends in months to come.

Thanks to Fjord board member Christian Lindholm for running the tours with his irrepressible vigour and insight.

We’re at SXSW this week (check out our 13 picks). If you’d like to delve deeper into our thoughts from MWC and SXSW and what you should be doing to stay ahead of the curve, please get in touch for a more detailed discussion with Fjord about leveraging the trends that will have the most impact on your business.

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