Cutting Room: Why do manufacturers shun MWC?

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The annual trade show is set to attract record numbers this year, but Paul Withers says the buzz around possible new handset releases has lessened

Mobile World Congress (MWC), the mobile industry’s biggest trade show, is upon us, but you can’t help feeling the manufacturers see it as a less significant event than they used to.

Vendors have been notoriously guilty of keeping their device releases under wraps, but this year the buzz around unveilings at the event has been largely muted.

The level of discussion there once was before the event doesn’t seem as prominent any more.

Manufacturers now seem more keen on holding their own launch events in the weeks before or after MWC to ensure their announcements are not lost in the flurry of news emanating from the Barcelona exhibition.

While the event officially begins on the Monday, most new major handsets are released the night before.

This was always seen as something of a battlefield among manufacturers – each trying to outdo the others by holding a conference in the most conducive venues offering the best food and drink in a bid to encourage reporters to shun the others.

But even these Sunday unveilings seem to be falling out of fashion.

Last year saw only Huawei, Sony and LG opting to launch devices on the eve of MWC.

And this year – at the time of writing at least – Sunday is looking like a free night off drinking sangria for the thousands of reporters descending on the Spanish city – with only Huawei holding a launch event.

Nokia and LG are presumably holding launch events on the Monday – but that seems to be it from the manufacturers.

While the GSMA has said this year’s event is set to break all records in terms of attendance, it could turn out to be one of the dullest editions since MWC began in 1987.

The reasons for this are not clear. Perhaps it is do with the fact that in today’s world, the entire planet can receive information on a handset launch at the touch of a button within seconds. It’s certainly cheaper than hiring out an old Olympic venue, as some manufacturers have done over the years.

The sceptic in me would suggest each manufacturer prefers to have its own day in the sun and make its announcements at a time when they are all but guaranteed to be the centre of attention – particularly those that are struggling.

Apple absence
The biggest headline grabber in mobile is without doubt Apple – which continues to shun the event – and Samsung.

While Samsung will be in attendance – it normally dominates the event visually with blanket advertising of its brand – it is not scheduled to hold any press conferences.

It is rumoured to be launching the slightly larger eight-inch Galaxy Note tablet device at some point during the event, but this is most likely to boil down to little more than a press release.

The launch of its highly anticipated Galaxy S IV handset is to take place at its own event on March 14.

So, based on this, the opportunity for the chasing pack to gain some much desired headlines is greatly increased. But the opportunity seems likely to be missed by most.

HTC, for example, which had a disastrous Q4, resulting in a 92 per cent fall in profits, took the wraps off its ‘One’ handset last Tuesday (February 19) – just a week before the event. HTC says it has no plans to launch any devices at the event.

BlackBerry did the same with its Blackberry 10 operating system and Z10 and Q10 devices in January. It, too, has said it has no plans to launch any new models at the event.

Sony launched its Xperia Z device in January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas – but history tells us more will follow at MWC. It is to hold a press briefing on the first morning of MWC and a media gathering in the evening – which suggests it does at least have something to say.

Rumours
There are, however, a number of rumours flying around which, if true, could light up the event.

There is a suggestion that Nokia could finally enter the tablet space with a device running on Windows. There is also talk that its PureView 808 handset, which ran on Symbian, will be launched running on Windows 8.

It is thought that ZTE and Huawei, two manufacturers desperately looking to establish themselves firmly this year, will also make announcements.

ZTE is expected to enter the ‘phablet’ market with the Grand Memo and be the first to launch a handset running on the Firefox OS platform.

Reports suggest Huawei is readying the Ascend P2, the follow up to the impressive Ascend P1 announced at last year’s event.

But that’s about it.

We’re not expecting too many groundbreaking announcements – but with the unpredictable nature of this industry, I’ll probably be eating my own words on these pages next time. Here’s hoping.

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