Cutting Room: MWC – size is not everything

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This year’s Mobile World Congress may have been the biggest one yet, but Michael Garwood believes it was also one of the weakest in recent memory

As the dust settles on yet another Mobile World Congress, it’s time to reflect on what has historically been the busiest week of the year for the mobile industry.

The GSMA said MWC 2013 was the biggest and best yet. Having spent three days in Barcelona, I believe only half of this statement rings true.

With four previous MWC visits under my belt, it is safe to say that this was, in comparison, actually one of the weakest yet.

Yes, there were record crowds of more than 70,000 in attendance. Yes, there were more than 1,500 stands on display – but what exactly did the MWC have to say? In truth, not very much.

As mentioned in the last issue, the event has become little more than a market stall for customers and businesses to meet. Without doubt it serves a purpose, but from a hard-hitting news perspective, launches were few and far between.

Fears confirmed
As expected – and feared – handset launches were at a minimum. Despite the vast number of impressively kitted-out stands – most of what they contained were things we’d largely seen before.

In years gone by, you could always guarantee a decent story from the GSMA – but this year’s announcements were largely a repeat of last year’s: more impressive statistics to suggest this will definitely be the year when NFC adoption finally happens, using the event as a stage to complain – rightfully so – about the need for a regulatory update and that others in the mobile ecosystem should pay their way, particularly with regard to spectrum.

All valid, but nothing we haven’t heard before.

The eve of the event was once again a time when manufacturers made their big announcements, competing with their rivals to get people to attend with largely planted rumours about what they were due to unveil. It used to be exciting.

But that’s all changing. This year, only Huawei unveiled – as expected – the follow-up to last year’s device, the impressive Ascend P2 smartphone, dubbed “the world’s fastest 4G handset”. I suspect Huawei made the decision to hold its launch early on the Sunday afternoon, appreciating it is not yet at a stage where people will shun, say, Sony or Samsung in its favour. If it had known its rivals wouldn’t be appearing, I suspect it may not have bothered.

Samsung announced its new Galaxy Note 8.0 device on the Sunday too, but its introduction to the world was via a basic press release. It even chose to send out invitations to its (presumed) Galaxy S IV handset launch on March 14 on the opening day of the event.

Arguably, it was Nokia which caught most people’s attention during the show – not because it offered any world firsts, but for its focus on value for money, offering smartphone handsets at seemingly impossibly low costs. Judging by public opinion, the firm has done the right thing. Few can deny the quality of Nokia’s Windows devices – however, the high price points have done it few favours.

No fight
Perhaps the biggest irritation, or surprise, for me was the lack of fight from manufacturers. Sony surprised me most, saying it wants to be runner-up to Apple – moments after launching its Xperia Tablet Z and smartphone. LG, too, has given up the fight with Apple and Samsung, launching its Optimus G device before distancing itself from the premium end of the market.

Is the market that dejected by the success of Apple and Samsung? On this display, it seems the answer is yes.

At least Nokia says it believes it can become the biggest smartphone manufacturer on the planet, even if few believe it at present. Even Motorola showed some fight.

Absentees
Several of the big names were notable by their absence. Nobody expected Apple to attend, but the absence of Google and Windows was surprising, especially as the latter was one of the premium sponsors of the event.

Even BlackBerry, which is currently showing the desire to get itself back on the map with BB10, shunned the event, choosing not to display its products and thus the opportunity to show off the Z10. Our interview with the firm’s UK chief Rob Orr was actually held above a nearby McDonald’s.

Venue
A quick word on the venue. The 2013 MWC was by far the biggest edition to date – but size isn’t everything.

In fact, perhaps unfairly, the size of the venue is one of my biggest criticisms. It’s colossal. According to one person, the distance from Hall 1 to Hall 8 was 1.9km. Now, when walking through the picturesque surroundings of the old

Fira venue – and breathing in fresh air – the distance between stands could be forgiven. However, sharing the air with 70,000 other people all day in a cramped indoor venue with halls connected by long, airport-style corridors is not an enjoyable experience. Demand for a media desk may not be so high in 2014.

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