The Mobile World Congress in Barcelona has turned into a mini Consumer Electronics Show. The term “Internet of Things” is the new hot buzz word this year. The show had an estimated 75,000 attendees spread across two sites and eight football-field-sized exhibit halls. While the connected car continued to have high visibility, other technology such as location-enabled advertising and indoor positioning received buzz.
BARCELONA — Fueled by connected car popularity, automakers and vendors converged on the Mobile World Congress here to assess the market in a continent that has not fared well economically. Some say the European market for location products is slower than that of North America — others say it is doing fine.
In this climate, a few automobile analysts have indicated they were worried that a large player such as Google or Apple will swoop in and take control of the connected car market — and tell automakers what to put in a vehicle. Last month, Google even formed its own group, the Open Automobile Alliance, with GM, Honda, Audi, Hyundai and chipmaker Nvidia.
Jorg Brakensiek, Car Connectivity Consortium chair of technical work group and Nokia principal architect, smart devices, doesn’t believe that Google will tell automakers what to do when it comes to connected vehicles. “Android is a consumer electronic device. Completely different than what we do,” he said. “Certainly, there are complimentary applications. We are not dominated by a single partner.”
At MWC, the Car Connectivity Consortium, or CCC, rolled out MirrorLink Developer Fast Track to allow developers to gain MirrorLink certification, an industry standard for car-smartphone interoperability, for their connected car applications. “We believe in standardization of the technology. But also do not put restrictions on business models and feel we allow a very open ecosystem [for members],” Brakensiek said.
Several industry analysts have said that the connected car market will eventually drive the autonomous vehicle movement, also championed by Google. Brakensiek said people still have to make the decisions — driverless cars initially will not be fully autonomous. “People have to make the judgment whether to hit the kid, or drive into a car next to them. Will that decision be made entirely by a car? I hope not,” he said.
CCC said that Coyote, Glympse and Parkopedia are the first developers admitted to the program. CCC said developers will have access to technical support, social media and press inclusion, promotion of the application among members and other benefits.
At an MWC developer’s conference, CCC said that Peugeot Citroen will roll out two MirrorLink-enabled vehicles, the C1 and 108, at the Geneva International Motor Show.
One company, Cincinnati-based RacoWireless, has been working with a number of overseas wireless carriers as well as automakers to power connected vehicles. The company recently signed a deal with AT&T Mobility to connect the Audi A3 line to LTE. As GPS World reported, AT&T had announced its LTE commitment to Audi at CES.
“We want to have our customers get the connectivity they need. We have signed dozens of carriers [worldwide], but now we are looking at more strategic partnerships,” said John Horn, RacoWireless president, who also says the Latin America is a growing market, working with its carrier partner, Telefonica, there.
At MWC, RacoWireless said it would integrate Inmarsat’s M2M service into its Omega Management Suite. The OMS is a cloud-based dashboard that helps to enable RacoWireless’ network of more than 1,000 providers. The deal could be significant as satellite connectivity services, required in remote areas, are growing in the M2M market.
Magellan Boss Outlines Strategic Vision
One of the companies trying to establish deep roots in the connected vehicle market is Magellan. Peggy Fong, Magellan president, said the company’s strategic focus is now in two areas: Wearables and connected vehicles.
“We have set a clear direction for the company in next few years. Our focus will be the cloud connected car, which is not traditional navigation,” she said. “Our other focus will be wearables. We saw that market coming when we identified that [portable navigation device] sales were declining five years ago.”
Magellan’s first foray into the wearable/smartwatch market wasn’t a success. The new product, Echo, was launched at CES, works with a smartphone. “The first product built a foundation. We are focusing on the sports watch market, which is different than the fitness market,” Fong said.
In addition to Magellan’s rollout, Garmin teamed up with Sony at MWC to offer navigation on a smartwatch. The app has speed warnings, traffic tracking, social media capability. The unit, launching later this spring, has a monthly service charge.
Fong believes that navigation on a watch won’t catch on because consumers are already carrying a smartphone with that capability. “We don’t believe navigation is the best use for a watch,” said Fong, who indicated that the company was working on other applications for its own wearable product.
Garmin also is offered its Navigon, Streetpilot navigation units for iPhones, iPad, Android and Windows phones at MWC. Its Head-Up Display Plus was getting a lot of buzz at the Showstoppers event the day before the conference.
Established Location Companies Exhibit at MWC
Telecommunication Systems’ two location entities — one based in California and the other in Washington state — displayed location-based services and navigation systems at MWC.
TCS rolled out its DopplerNav embedded weather overlays at the show. The company is also trying to establish a foothold with European wireless carriers with its Gokivo 2.0 location-based technologies for both Android and iPhone smartphones.
“Users can see real-time weather and be able to adjust routes around it. The released version of the product is scheduled for April, but we are rolling it out in Europe,” said Michael Loo, TCS senior marketing manager, of the new DopplerNav unit.
The company’s Seattle unit, which was made up of former Autodesk employees, is seeing inroads in Latin American markets. Europe, however, has been a tough nut to crack as carriers haven’t signed up for its white label locater product.
“Our Family Locater and Workforce Locator products are doing well in Latin America. We are trying to gain a foothold here in Europe,” said Javier Ferraez, TCS senior product manager, location applications.
Overall, TCS was one of the companies that had been hurt by Google’s free maps and navigation, but is now seeing growth in niche LBS and navigation areas.
Also at MWC, Nokia’s Here unit had a few product announcements such as a mapping product with CNN; Here maps and turn-by-turn navigation integration into the parent company’s first Android-based phone, Nokia X (which doesn’t incorporate Google maps and navigation); Here Auto Cloud that powers Volvo navigation; and even location-based games.
Where’s Indoor Positioning?
Some of the usual industry players had displays on indoor positioning, but there were no big announcements. Such companies as SK Telecom displayed beacons with centimeter-level accuracy that leverage Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and UWB technology.
“We have indoor and outdoor beacons. The outdoor beacons can last three years without a battery change,” said John Kwon, Idolink CEO, who was displaying a system that is not on the market to assess European carriers’ interest.
SK Telecom displayed its augmented reality platform, also not yet on the market, which allows users to point a camera at an object, have it identified, mapped/located and described. The company says it will allow the development of many business-to-business and business-to-consumer augmented reality services and content by third-party developers. This may open the door to several markets such as advertising agencies, education and publishing companies.
In other Mobile World Congress news:
- ALK Technologies showed off its free CoPilot GPS app, which has turn-by-turn navigation. The app has a new feature called CommuteMe, which learns a driver’s daily commute routing, tracking streets and freeways they frequently use. ALK was another company that focused on enterprise markets, particularly when Google invaded the market with free maps and navigation.
- Is the Mobile World Congress outgrowing Barcelona? Seems as if it is almost as hard to get a hotel room, flight and other travel as it is to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. One attendee said he found great lodging near the conference, but obtained it in October. Others in the industry believed that the enormous trade show is getting too expensive — and too far away — to realistically attend and market products and services.
- There were many more meeting rooms this year than at previous MWCs. Many companies are opting in on these private venues to talk with customers and potential customers.
- Mark Zuckerberg came out in his trademark short sleeved T-shirt and jeans. He promoted Internet.org, an effort to get the web into underdeveloped countries. Of course, he was talking to a room of wireless executives and others who would have to build/pay for that capability. He also said he was done acquiring companies for now — does that mean there will be no $19 billion Whatsapp pay day for a location company?