So adios Fira de Montjuic, hola Centre Comercial Gran Via 2. I am of course talking about Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2012, where the great and good of the mobile industry were invited to gather last week. Sadly, they were otherwise engaged so a ragbag assortment of hacks, flacks, mobile operators and vendors turned up instead. This year also marked MWC’s final swansong at the Fira before it moves to a new venue next year…all the way to the other end of Barcelona.
It’s my 4th time at the show and as anyone who has ever been will know, sticking nearly 70,000 people into the Spanish equivalent of the Crystal Maze equals a mix of elbows and arms at dawn and a bun fight for a ham baguette in overcrowded cafes. It was certainly a busy show for the lorries, over 20 briefings in two days with press and analysts including a few video interviews added in for good measure. Personally, next year I’ll miss the Fira and I’m not the only one.
The theme of the show was ‘redefining mobile’ and the word on everybody lips was certainly ‘change’. Funnily enough, the MWC’s move to a new location has parallels with where mobile operators and traditional handset manufacturers are right now – letting go of the past and having to be dragged kicking and screaming into a uncertain future faster than you can say ‘where’s my battery life gone?’. Many of the people we spoke to have been booking the same hotel, stands and going to the same events for years and don’t fancy the idea of upping sticks to the other side of the city. Many of those same people have struggled to deal with a changing mobile landscape as the likes of Google, Apple and OTT services like Netflix eat into traditional mobile revenues of operators and handset manufacturers like Nokia, Sony and Huawei. But the sparks of change are there. As important as it is, this year’s show was less about improving infrastructure and more about adding services that create customer loyalty. A smartphone in and of itself does not a mobile business make and, if your end-to-end mobile emporium isn’t stuffed to the gills with apps and services, the punters won’t be coming back.
The message was clear from show attendees and exhibitors, operators and handset manufacturers need to invest in value-added services and apps that keep customers happy or risk being further relegated to the owners of hardware – whether that’s the pipes that transfer data or the handset hardware that carries the interesting software stuff.
I’ve no idea what the Centre Comercial Gran Via 2 will be like for next year’s show (change isn’t always better!) but I’m looking forward to seeing what moves the mobile industry will make with the changes around them. Huawei created a horse made of mobile phones for this year’s show – surely anyone who does that is up for a bit of innovation?!