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From Android and iPad mini to enterprise & emerging markets: The winners and losers of Mobile World Congress 2013

by Doug Drinkwater

February 28 2013

The Mobile World Congress shutters to a close today after three days of intensive meetings, demos and press announcements. TabTimes looks at who can come away feeling pleased with their work at the Spanish tech exhibition.

The Winners

iPad mini wins for business portability

Apple doesn’t go to third-party exhibitions. In fact, the company usually overshadows them by announcing the latest iOS device shortly afterwards.

That could still happen this time around, with the iPad mini apparently set to be announced sometime in March.

That aside however, TabTimes couldn’t help but notice the sheer volume of iPad minis in the hands of business folk perusing the MWC halls at the Fire Gran Via exhibition center. In fact, the split between the bigger and smaller iPads was probably 60:40, not exactly a bad ratio considering the mini only launched in November.

Samsung: Big on enterprise

Like Bruce Willis, Samsung rarely does things in small measures and that was once again the case at MWC.

Named the top device maker at the show, the Korean group had a huge stand and had a lot of news to share.

The company announced during the show that it hopes to double tablet sales over the next year, and added to this by announcing the 8-inch Galaxy Note.

Enterprise news also wasn’t in short supply with the Galaxy Tab maker announcing improvements to its SAFE (Samsung for Enterprise) mobile device program. This enhancement is called Knox and essentially provides app containers and VPNs to separate personal and corporate data. Knox also helps with secure booting devices and allows app-level controls to be built into third-party apps via SDKs or app wrapping.

In fact, enterprise was one of the big trends of the show.  SAP announced its solution for collaborating on tablets in business, while AirWatch – which held its own AirWatch Connect conference in Barcelona – said that received $200 million in round A funding.

Emerging markets are about to become hot news

Trade shows of any flavour generally set their own agendas, their own trends. But they do also usually give you a taste for what is happening globally.

This year’s Mobile World Congress was a perfect example of that, at least in showing how global economics are increasingly shifting to emerging markets like China (if you can still them that), Brazil and India.

Nokia, for one, has big hopes in this area and announced the super low-cost Nokia 105 (starting from an incredible $20) and 301 feature phones, which are largely for people in poor regions who do not own a mobile phone. The company did also announce relatively low-specced smartphones, the Lumia 520 and Lumia 720.

There were other vendors in on the act too, most notably regarding new operating systems. Network provider Orange promised to bring mobile OS Tizen to emerging countries in 2014, while Mozilla’s own Firefox OS is a low-cost entrant that will debut on smartphones from ZTE, LG, Sony and Alcatel. Indeed, Alcatel is launching a model to go into nine emerging markets.

(Photo: Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs announces the Firefox OS at the Mobile World Congress. Image credit: CNET)

It wasn’t just the vendors either, with session keynotes also seeing senior executives talk up the possibilities of targeting emerging markets.

“Emerging markets continue to feature heavily in the keynote speeches at MWC 2013, with both Nokia and Bharti Airtel’s CEOs highlighting that the next billion Internet connections will come from mobile users in emerging markets,” said Ovum analyst Carrie Pawsey.

“Ovum forecasts that emerging markets will be the key source of future mobile connections growth, particularly in Africa and Asia-Pacific.

As an aside, and as someone remarked to me during the show, it is worth noting the sheer number of keynote speakers coming from Asia. That itself should give some idea of where innovation is still coming from.

Mobile advertising no longer a fanciful idea

It may not grab the headlines like a new mobile operating system or 7-inch tablet, but mobile advertising came into the spotlight in Barcelona.

An increasing number of mobile ad technology providers could be found in the exhibition halls, while Opera Software announced its own fully-owned mobile advertising platform called Opera Mediaworks.

“A couple of years ago the services hall at MWC was full of content companies,” said mobile analyst Benedict Evans on Twitter. “Now it's full of mobile ad companies.”

Android tablets are still in demand despite Google’s absence

The absence of Apple and Microsoft and the two firms’ walled garden approach to their respective operating systems (iOS and Windows 8) saw Android tablets take flight in Barcelona.

Sure enough, Google itself didn’t have an official stand -- although the company did reportedly have a mysterious meeting room and show off Google Glass -- but its Android tablet partners were more than happy to promote their devices.

Lenovo was one of those brands, launching new three Android tablets that are to be “very aggressively priced”, but there were also models from HP (Slate 7), Sony (Xperia Tablet Z) and Acer (Iconia B1). Crucially for Google, most of these devices came with Jelly Bean (Android 4.1) rather than Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0)

With this and Gartner analyst Phil Redman anticipating growing demand for Android tablets (largely owing to cheaper prices), MWC proved that the tablet market remains a three-horse race.

The Losers

Microsoft misses opportunity with Windows 8

This time last year Microsoft unwrapped the Consumer Preview of Windows 8 at an off-site hotel in Barcelona. The operating system was garnering a fair amount of excitement in and outside of MWC and it arguably ended up stealing the show.

So perhaps it was a surprise then that Microsoft chose not to participate in any shape or form at this year’s extravaganza. There was certainly no Microsoft stand or any Windows 8 tablets for what I could see, and maybe this represents a missed opportunity considering the weak sales of Windows 8 and the number of people still struggling to come to grips with it.

BlackBerry also strangely absent from MWC

Like Microsoft, BlackBerry is also desperately trying to promote a new operating system to consumers and business folk. And like Microsoft, the firm decided not to bother to attend arguably the biggest mobile-focused tech conference in the world.

I get that prices are high for exhibiting (Samsung’s stand must have cost somewhere in the region of $500,000 alone) but there are other ways of participating, of showing that your company is relevant. 

Doug Drinkwater is the International Editor of TabTimes and is based in London, England.

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