Mobile World Congress 2008 - Wish I Was There

The current movie "The Bucket List" is about things to do before you kick the bucket. One of those things, IMHO, should be to visit Barcelona. This is a magnificent city on the Mediterranean, and the site of this week's Mobile World Congress (MWC), formerly 3GSM. Stay at the Hotel Arts, which is right on the beach, but ignore the water. You want beach? Go to Cannes. But that's where you'll spend your time in Cannes, whereas Barcelona is full of sites to see and things to do. Hop the Bus Turistic and go see anything by the great architect Antoni Gaudi. And the food is fabulous - just get used to eating dinner at midnight and you'll be all set.

MWC is essentially the European equivalent of the CTIA show, and a reminder that most of what goes on in wireless happens outside the US. I didn't get to go this year, but I did note a few highlights in assorted company press releases:

  • Content for the (very) small screen was all the rage, with no less than Robert Redford there to promote the idea. But several had a cautionary note: content must be developed for the handset explicitly; porting movies and such originally designed for large screens will almost always yield a disappointing result.
  • The Global Mobile Award for best handset did not go to the iPhone, but rather to the Sony Ericsson W910. No surprise here. This is a European show, after all. Still, the influence of the iPhone cannot be denied - and you can buy it in some parts of Europe.
  • It's interesting that Motorola announced, well, very little in Barcelona. The W161 handset has a monochrome display! What's up with that? I think that they will spin off or sell the handset division; there's probably not much choice in the matter as the company needs to slim down in order to maximize shareholder value. My first thought on this topic, BTW, was that Microsoft would buy it; I think Window Mobile is going to have a hard time against Android, and MS could get away with building their own OS into their own Phones. But Microsoft bought Danger, which, surprisingly, doesn't sell a Windows Mobile Product. What's up with that?
  • It's pretty clear that LTE is going to be the 4G technology of choice, with WiMAX playing a significant role in some markets. With these in place, the focus will shift from technology to applications, and applications of course shift to the (mobile) Web. Of particular importance are "Web 2.0" (whatever that means) collaboration apps, which I think really means social networking sites that deliver eyeballs to advertisers. Mobile advertising was a huge topic at the show, and I remain convinced it's a huge danger to most of the rest of us.
  • Which brings us to mobile TV, also a huge topic. There's still a battle for standards underway here (mostly MediaFLO vs. DVB-H), but the issue to me is why bother at all. TV in any form is, as I've written before, becoming unwatchable. I'm going to pay more every month to watch commercials? On my phone? OK, some folks might, but I'm betting even the target demographic (the youth market) has better things to do with its time. Sports might work, but I have my doubts about football on the tiny screen - see my first point above. Even if you're under 40, a ball on a the small screen is just a few pixels.

There's a lot more, and the really significant stuff will merit a few inches here over the next few months. Regardless, I know many out there don't think that trade shows and conferences have much of a future. But while this may come as a shock to said many, the whole point of mobile and wireless technologies and products is to, in fact, enable us to get out there, just like that especially irritating Royal Caribbean commercial advises. Meet new people. Do new things. Eat dinner at midnight. Just do it (sorry, no link for that one). The alternative, after all, doesn't involve wireless, which, as we saw in Barcelona, is increasingly in popularity at a rate that shows no signs of decline.

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