With Record Crowd, Mobile World Congress Market Emphasis Shifts

March 8, 2011  - By
The recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona had a record 60,000 attendees. Many industry companies were either exhibiting or attending to kick tires to see how the international location-based services market is faring. Industry observers are saying the focus of the trade show has gone from European-centric markets to a broader view, particularly as new technology and standards evolve and mature.


The recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona proved that the market for location-based services is on a worldwide stage — and not sequestered to certain regions. Clay Babcock, Rand McNally director of advanced navigation technology, says the Mountain World Congress traditionally focused on European markets.

“The MWC, and the 3GSM show that preceded it, were primarily European affairs that highlighted the latest hardware in the GSM world. While the shining stars came from places like Espoo, Finland, and Stockholm Sweden, even the second-tier players were European, with Bosch, Siemens, Alcetel, Sendo, and Phillips all making phones for the growing market,” he said. “For the most part, the North American and Asian players sat on the sidelines. A possible exception was Motorola, who had two brief moments in the sun with their Startac and then Razr phones. Asian companies seemed content to make phones for the proprietary Japanese and Korean markets.”

Several technology events have changed the market—and the key part of the shift has been the dominant role that software, ecosystems, and the well-used line of ‘user experience’ now plays a major part in the world of mobile telephony, Babcock said.

“And with it, the center of the mobile world has moved to the west coast of the United States. The rise of the Apple iOS, Google Android–and now a lesser degree Microsoft WM7–has created new opportunities for many, but has also caught some big players off guard,” he said. “Nokia, for all its brilliance in making hardware, has been forced to drop its long-in-the-tooth Symbian OS in favor of WM7. This has angered many in the installed user base, but they miss the point. Nokia had to make a move, and a move to Android would have been a fatal step.”

Babcock contends that with Microsoft, Nokia at least gets an OS partner that they can look upon as equals. “That was never going to happen with Google. The state of affairs is so dire at Nokia that for the second year in a row, they failed to display at the show,” he said.

Missing at MWC is Apple, which Babcock says never comes anyway–and says that absence opened the door wide for Android. “The Android booth was a buzz of activity and excitement. Following a theme with other large booths at the show, a large section of the floor space was dedicated to partners’ applications and solutions,” he said. “The show is really all about software.”

As GPS World reported, the Nielsen Company said that Android appears to be pulling ahead of RIM Blackberry and Apple iOS in the market share battle for smartphone operating systems. But an analysis by manufacturer shows Research in Motion and Apple to be the winners compared to other device makers since they are the only ones creating and selling smartphones with their respective operating systems.

Location Just a Feature?

As for location-based services, they are maturing, becoming ubiquitous in the hardware, Babcock said. “Companies are starting to understand that location is a feature, not a business. This will affect business models that were once designed as end-user plays,” he said. “Everybody still can get paid, but maybe not by entities you first thought would pay.”

Babcock said that while the focus was on software at MWC, there was brilliant hardware on display. “The new Samsung Galaxy S II features a dual core 1-GigHz CPU and 4.3 inch super AMOLED display. Motorola, who like Sony-Ericsson is thriving after switching to Android, announced a new phone with an array of amazing accessories, one that turns the phone into a mini-laptop,” he said.

Babcock said that, even on his cab ride to the airport to return home, there was a poster for a mobile taxi application that would locate customers and dispatch a car to their location — and let them know the estimated time of arrival. “Neat, maybe not earth-shattering, but the platforms it supported were Android, iOS and Research in Motion. The new world of phone operating systems, were found in the back of a Barcelona taxi,” he said.

A number of such LBS industry companies as Navteq, ALK Technologies, deCarta and other entities had large presences or meeting rooms at MWC. Show organizers say the crowd topped out at 60,000, which was significantly higher than in 2010 or 2009. Like the Consumer Electronics Show in January, it appears that trade show attendance is up for the first time since 2008. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues for this month’s CTIA in Orlando.

Foursquare Expands Language Capability

In other MWC news, Dennis Crowley, CEO and co-founder of Foursquare, delivered a mini-keynote at the trade show about “Making Apps Smarter Through Location/Localization.” The company has made rapid expansion throughout the past year—and now has check-ins from nearly 200 countries.

Foursquare recently announced that its service is available in French, Italian, German, Spanish, and Japanese. Users can update Foursquare on their Blackberry, iPhone, or Android, to switch to the default language of the device.

In other LBS news:

  • TCS said that U.S. Cellular has extended its agreement to offer the company’s Your Navigator service on BREW phones. Your Navigator is an LBS application for GPS-enabled mobile phone, offering personal navigation and real-time, turn-by-turn visual and audio directions. TCS, which has worked with U.S. Cellular since 2007, signed a two-year software licensing agreement extension.
This article is tagged with , and posted in Mobile, Opinions

About the Author:

Kevin Dennehy is GPS World’s editor for location-based services, writing a monthly column for the LBS Insider newsletter. Dennehy has been writing about the location industry for more than 20 years. He covered GPS and location technology for Global Positioning & Navigation News for seven years. His articles on the wireless industry have been published in both consumer and trade magazines and newspapers.

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