Once again, I've just spent a couple of days in Barcelona at Mobile World Congress (MWC). Year after year, the show is opening up to non-telecom players and going beyond mobile. Think about the rise of personal cloud-based services delivering consumer experiences across devices, Sony's marketing efforts to promote seamless entertainment across different screens, or the emergence of the "phablets" acronym (devices in between a phone and a tablet, such as Asus Padfone or LG Vu).  

While it is difficult to summarize all the news and announcements, here are some thoughts on MWC 2012:

  • Mobile product innovation is increasingly coming from emerging marketsIf you have been attending the show since the early 3GSM days in Cannes, you have certainly noticed a few facts. T-Mobile's booth was replaced by Qtel's (a Middle East and African operator), while Huawei and ZTE announced a large smartphone product portfolio — and cast a shadow over Samsung whose booth was almost exclusively promoting the hybrid smartphone/tablet Galaxy Note. Nokia's CEO started his presentation by highlighting the emerging markets' opportunity and the new ASHA range of products. There were lots of innovative demos from players in emerging markets ranging from mobile payments to mobile health via mobile education. It is time to stop obsessing about the latest Silicon Valley mobile start-up. Needless to say, huge innovation is coming from the Silicon Valley, Boston, or Tel-Aviv areas and other regions of the world, combining VC money, higher-educated populations, high GDP, and more advanced digital behaviors. However, product strategists should increasingly monitor product and service innovation in emerging countries — whether or not they have a global presence. There will be lessons to learn and new opportunities in these countries already living in the post-PC era.
  • Smartphones' specifications are more impressive than ever, but developers care about reach. Nokia 808 PureView has an amazing 41MP camera. HTC One X or LG Optimus 4X HD have quad-core capacities enabling superior performances and pushing the boundaries for amazing consumer experiences. Beyond the technology race, developers actually care about reach and how consumers are effectively using services on smartphones. In this regard, Nokia and Microsoft demonstrated their ability to quickly execute their new strategy by announcing a range of new Lumia devices and strong developer support. However, more than 1 million Lumia sales since launch still pales next to 850,000 daily Android phone activations. Tomorrow, Microsoft is going to unveil the consumer preview edition of Windows 8, and I agree with Tom Krazit at GigaOM that this is Microsoft's most vital launch in years.
  • There's a strong focus on NFC smart tags and mobile payments. I saw very interesting demos from the likes of SK Telecom, NXP, and handset makers to develop new usage for NFC devices beyond contactless payments. Forrester just published a report recommending interactive marketers to Trial NFC To Connect The Real World With Mobile. While NFC won't become mass market in 2012, it is time to start thinking how to integrate it in your mobile road map. The mobile payment battle is also heating up with new strategic agreements between card networks and operators (Vodafone/Visa, Telefonica/MasterCard), Facebook, and carriers — not to mention eBay/PayPal's stronger presence at the show this year.  

There will be more announcements tomorrow, and there were plenty of other hot topics such as M2M; augmented reality; smarter apps and the ability to use new sensors to monitor your environment or your health; mobile app development and the rise of HTML5; improved and scalable mobile marketing platforms; and improved location-based services, such as Nokia Transport.

I will soon host a Webinar on March 13. In this Webinar, I will: 1) summarize key MWC announcements and provide insight into the mobile trends shaping the European market in 2012; 2) highlight the disruptive power of mobile for years to come; and 3) share best practices to anticipate the impact of integrating mobile into your overall consumer approach. You can register for the Webinar here.

Did you attend MWC? What were your impressions and key takeaways? Share them in the comments!