Mobile World Congress 2010: Planet of the Apps

April 1, 2010  - By
APP PLANET featured 100 exhibitors and a lounge for old-fashioned social networking.

APP PLANET featured 100 exhibitors and a lounge for old-fashioned social networking.

By Moni Malek

It’s that time of year, around Valentine’s Day, when most of the who’s who in the mobile phone industry meet at the Mobile World Congress. I have been attending this event for nearly 15 years, and have seen the location change from Cannes to Barcelona, and the name change from GSM World Congress to 3GSM World Congress to Mobile World Congress.

At the same time, the number of mobile phone users shot up from the millions to the billions. A new feature this year was the App Planet hall. The attendance of 47,000 was only marginally down from the 49,000 visitors in 2009, making it still a very busy a event, with no sign of the recession compared to other shows I’ve seen. It’s still the best place to meet companies in the mobile space — I met 25 in three days, as well as running into ex-colleagues and contacts who, like me, have been attending for years.

Smartphone Entry. The trend of the last year or so has been the burst entry of smartphones. First started by Apple iPhone for consumers and to some extent Blackberry for professionals (the so-called fruit phones), operating systems (OS) have evolved to include Android from Google, Palm Pre’s webOS, Nokia and Intel merging their top-end smartphone operating systems, and Symbian going open source. Microsoft has people excited with Windows Phone 7, with the first handsets running on it scheduled to hit the markets around the holiday season.

Most of the smartphones are GPS-enabled, and as these phones increase the market penetration of GPS, GPS use will increase, leading to more use of location-based applications.

Deep Pockets. For those of you who think GPS personal navigation device market pricing is tough, the mobile phone market is cut throat. Volumes are out of this world, and in lots of countries around the globe, the volumes are more than the population! These volumes require deep pockets to keep up the investment to make money on decreasing margins.

There has been a trend toward  consolidation in the GPS chip industry. Less than a year or two ago in Barcelona booths represented eRide (acquired by Furuno), Global Locate (acquired by Broadcom), GloNav (acquired by NXP, then wound up in ST Ericsson), Nemerix (which seems to have disappeared, though it’s rumored some assets went to another chip company), and finally SiRF (now part of CSR-SiRF). CSR-SiRF’s booth was more like a fortress, but at least I got to talk to the SiRF founder.

It will be interesting to see what a Bluetooth-GPS company with a lot of cash in the bank plans as a next move. As for survivors, u-blox still had a booth (they weren’t acquired; they did an Initial Public Offering), and CellGuide had a small section of the Israel booth.

App Planet. Since I first attended this show, global mobile-phone technology has gone from GSM voice to GPRS data to 3G voice/data to HSPA. Now comes LTE (Long Term Evolution), which is really a packet data network that can use VoIP.  Together, 3G and smartphones give us an environment which lets apps become a new business model worth billions. The Apps Planet hall showcased a lot of these models. The hall didn’t exist last year, but this year had 100 exhibitors. It easy to predict this number will grow.

There are so many applications, they will need to differentiate to stand out from the crowd and gain mass. I think location-based apps need to get better, and I see that happening at the show. deCarta allows searches for places based on real walking distances or near the route you are traveling. Aloqa has clients for every smartphone with channels that you can choose for your interest. Mireo impressed me with not only natural text guidance (“turn left after the Apple store”) but its super-fast routing in less that 2 seconds, as opposed to 30-seconds-plus on other devices. It features algorithms with pre-stored routes to major junctions, so only the rest is routed. In any case, the net effect is you are routed before you have to think which way to drive or walk. I always say mobile phone users have short attention spans and expect instant gratification, and fast routing certainly helps.

Finally, an Audi A5 Cabriolet displayed a solution for the European Commission’s eCall emergency call initiative, a car which automatically sends your position after an accident to a Public Safety Answering Point. eCall should be implemented in Europe by 2014, but Qualcomm is looking to put the system into the Audi A8 this year.
Moni Malek is CEO of ML-C MobileLocation-Company GmbH, a new company integrating location and communication in a system platform.

Motorola’s Christian Kurzke discusses Android with developers.

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