After experiencing some of the most exhausting days in the life of a “mobile” analyst, I am back from Barcelona. I shared some thoughts before the event started (see here), but here are my key takeaways from the 2013 event. I saw:

  • Fewer high-end smartphones. Gone are the days when handset makers announced their flagship devices in Barcelona. In a communication ripped from Apple’s playbook, Samsung announced a press conference for the likely launch of the Galaxy S4 on March 14. Among the most interesting devices from a price/technology standpoint were the Huawei Ascend P2 and some of the LG handsets. 
  • More and more “phablets” and tablets. In the “phablet” category — I prefer to call them supersized smartphones — a special mention goes to the LG Optimus Pro. Numerous tablets were announced, including the Sony XPeria Tablet Z for $499, three Android Lenovo tablets, and the HP Slate 7 — an Android tablet for business users at only $169. These types of announcements are new for MWC, highlighting the evolution of personal computing and the growing importance of the screen size.
  • A stronger focus on lower-cost smartphones and the next billion customers. What can we expect from the Mozilla Firefox OS buzz? Mostly low-cost devices promoted by operators in emerging countries, starting with Latin America in 2013. However, support from operators, Huawei, and ZTE won’t be enough to really get traction. Nokia made the right decision to bring Windows Phone 8 to low-end devices, in particular with the affordable Nokia Lumia 520. With only 14 million Lumia devices sold so far, Microsoft is still far from critical mass. The next six months will be critical in Nokia and Microsoft’s bid to establish reach. They will have to gain volume in the low- to mid-end segment and also capture high-end market share via the launch of a new flagship device to replace the Lumia 920. Nokia also released the Nokia N105 – a very simple and robust device for only €15 – targeting consumers in China, India or Indonesia. Two other announcements caught my attention: 1) the rebranding of telecom operator Qtel as “ooredoo” to serve its 90 million customers across the Middle East, North Africa, and Southeast Asia; and 2) Facebook’s agreement with 18 operators to offer zero-rated data agreements to reach consumers in emerging markets.
  • More connected objects. According to the GSMA’s Connected Car Forum, more than 20% of vehicle sales in 2015 will include embedded connectivity, while more than half will be connected — either by embedded or tethered smartphone integration. The Ford/Spotify agreement is an illustration of this trend. What about the Internet of Things? The GSMA organized a show at MWC that suggests you have to translate this as machine to machine (M2M). There were a number of demonstrations on this, once again highlighting that mobile platforms will be the catalyst for new, connected experiences.
  • A more low-key presence for OTT. These connected devices per se are nothing without the operating systems that the Internet giants and software companies provide. That’s why there was heated debate about the third mobile ecosystem between Mozilla and other Linux environments (Ubuntu, Jolla). While Apple’s absence has cast a shadow over the show since 2007, neither Microsoft nor Google’s Android had a booth or a key announcement to make this year. That said, over-the-top provider Viber announced that it had reached 170 million users for its free IP instant messaging service — further questioning operators’ business model and approach.
  • NFC all over the place. I looked back at what I said about MWC 2011 (see here), and there was a strong technology focus on NFC at that point. Have things changed much? Yes, as NFC devices are now shipping in significant numbers. As I mentioned back in August in this post, NFC will mean much more than mobile payments. That’s why the GSMA — representing operators’ interests — was so keen to educate MWC delegates by offering them the ability to enter the show via NFC badges. Tapping to get more information can be a seamless experience, but NFC is only a technology enabler; it has to be combined with other technologies and offer real consumer benefits to take off. I guess that’s what David Marcus, CEO of PayPal, meant when he said that “NFC was still a technology in search of a problem to solve.” By the way, PayPal announced that it is expecting $20 billion in total payment value in mobile transactions for 2013 — that’s just via mobile commerce. The Visa/Samsung deal is also reopening the debate on the secure element on SIM cards — or, at least, is putting pressure on operators to lower their SIM rental model pricing. I will stick to my point of view: NFC is a key technology, but it will take longer than most believe to establish frequent usage of mobile contactless services.
  • More marketing and advertising solutions. Few announcements were made, but MWC is clearly not the spot for this. However, the mPowered brand conferences, the App Planet Hall, and numerous booths from the likes of InMobi, Millennial, and Velti show marketers’ growing appetite to include mobile in the mix. As a judge for the Global Mobile Awards, I am particularly pleased to congratulate McCann World Group for its best advertising or marketing award for Coca Cola’s Chok!Chok!Chok! campaign in Hong Kong. Check out the video here. McCann Truth’s brand-new research on the “Truth About The Connected You” is also a must-read. To find out which mobile personality profile you belong to, have a look here.
  • More C-level executives. Highlighting the growing importance of mobile in companies’ strategies, I noticed that more CMOs, CIOs, and Chief Digital Officers from global brands attended. I was honored to deliver a speech to an executive board member of a global brand in the FMCG space. About 10 key executives from this company spent a “mobile immersion day” meeting with key mobile players and touring the Fira. This is a new phenomenon, indicating that mobile will increasingly be on the agenda for board meetings.

As always, I didn’t have enough time to look at demos from innovative companies. However, a couple of them caught my eye, including kiip (a mobile reward/loyalty app that enables brands to engage consumers; congrats to @brian_wong for a lively speech); twilio (a cloud-based communication platform); capptain (cross-platform real-time analytics); and deveryware (a privacy permission app).