Cutting Room: Record MWC sets Samsung challenge

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 Samsung stole the headlines by unveiling the Galaxy S5 but with a number of other device launches at the show, competition promises to be just as fierce as ever this year

Mobile World Congress has come and gone again, with organisers GSMA stating it “shattered all previous records”. Having spent three days at the Fira Gran Via, that’s easily believable.

More than 85,000 people attended MWC, up from 72,000 last year. More than 1,800 companies exhibited across 98,000 net square metres of floor space, up from the 1,700 firms across 94,000 net square metres 12 months ago.

Around 3,800 journalists and industry analysts turned up – 400 more than last year. With all these high numbers and records broken, it shows MWC is finally back on the radar after a barren spell.

Last year’s event was a letdown, with product launches minimal, but as predicted in this column in the previous issue of Mobile News, this year’s event changed all that. It saw the return of Samsung on a large scale, immediately evident by its massive billboard outside the Fira and numerous flags surrounding it. That’s before we even got inside. The launch of the Galaxy S5 drew thousands on the first evening. It came as no surprise, nor did improved specs or the addition of a fingerprint scanner and fitness theme.

Samsung is under pressure to maintain its leading position. However, analysts appeared underwhelmed by the S5. I even got chatting to an analyst on the way out to Barcelona who had been given time with the device and he felt it had been rushed.

Wearables take off
Samsung is also clearly looking to be a leader in wearable technology. The Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo smartwatches were shown off, although both remain clunky and unfashionable. The Gear Fit is a more attractive option, although its small screen around the wrist limits usability.

With Microsoft’s purchase of Nokia’s devices business for £4.6 billion nearing completion, it was good to hear the manufacturer speak about how much its Lumia smartphone brand is driving growth. The company even labelled the UK as one of its success stories.

Nokia also unveiled three devices running a hybrid Windows Phone and Android OS in what is a significant change in direction for the company. A penny for the thoughts of established Android players Samsung, Sony Mobile, HTC and LG.

There were no surprises from Sony Mobile, which took the wraps off the Z2 smartphone and Tablet 2. What raised my eyebrows was the company setting its sights on Apple and Samsung, confident it can take market share from them. The industry will welcome the increased competition at the top.

Brand awareness
HTC began its assault on the mid-tier market with the launch of the Desire 610 and 816 smartphones, although it would have been helpful if the 610 was on display and the 816 worked. Huawei hit us with five new 4G devices and revealed its brand awareness is rising in Europe, while ZTE admitted its absence from the UK market was down to a weak portfolio but it is doubling marketing spend in Europe to address this.

One to watch
We were also impressed with the openness of Lenovo, a company that has remained fairly anonymous in recent times, particularly in the UK. Despite only announcing its purchase of Motorola for £1.7 billion six weeks ago, it was frank with its plans in the UK, stating it will launch here with or without Moto, with talks ongoing with Vodafone.

There was an appearance by Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg days after he bought WhatsApp for $19 billion. The auditorium was packed by autograph hunters two hours before his appearance. Apart from him telling us he didn’t pay too much for WhatsApp, it was a non-event.

A particular highlight for us was our meeting with Brightstar chief executive Marcelo Claure – the first he has given to the UK press since Brightstar purchased 20:20 Mobile last month.

He was in terrific form, setting out Brightstar’s ambitions as well as being open and honest about his acquisition of 20:20 Mobile and his plans for the new Brightstar 20:20 brand.

With new handset releases expected in Q2, the manufacturer battleground will be as fierce as ever.

All eyes will be on Samsung to see whether it can continue its momentum at the top and if its rivals can claw share from it.

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