Mobile World Congress 2013: Not the next big thing, the next big economy
With the unprecedented pace of change in the mobile industry over the past five years, many of us were expecting glimpses of the future at this year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) – the largest mobile conference in the world.
There were certainly signs of real innovation, such as Blinkfeed on the new HTC One device, a reimagined home-screen pulling together thousands of personal media and social feeds.
There was also a focus on improving the usability of devices with bigger screens, HD resolutions and 4G connectivity. However, what I took away from this year’s show was the emphasis manufacturers are placing on emerging markets.
Tapping into emerging markets
With smartphone penetration reaching a ceiling in some developed markets and lengthy contracts keeping consumers from upgrading, tapping into new economies needs to be a priority. And Nokia, ZTE, Huawei and Firefox all rose to the challenge with their latest offerings at entry level prices.
Nokia has a history of making its mark on emerging markets like China and India. However, over the past few years, it has started to lose out to Chinese brands such as Huawei, which is able to produce well specced Android handsets at prices consumers can afford. Enter the Lumia 520 – Nokia’s answer to Chinese brands encroaching on its territory. It is the cheapest in the Lumia line –available at just €139 – and Nokia claims it will be able to reach even lower price points in the future.
Elsewhere, the announcement of the new FireFox Mobile OS also suggests the move to capitalise on fast rising levels of smartphone adoption in emerging markets, particularly Latin America. In a market dominated by iOS and Android, the new OS has been welcomed by a number of major carriers, such as Telefonica, hoping to wrestle power back towards the operators. Carrier support will be vital to get the new OS off the ground, but convincing consumers of its merits is likely to prove challenging – with a dearth of apps and no clear benefits over what exists already.
Although there are many capable smartphones available in emerging markets, key barriers such as reliable and affordable data connections continue to hinder the user experience, limiting the value of mobile marketing in these regions.
Size, quality and connectivity
With size, quality and connectivity coming together, we have reached a pivotal moment in what mobiles can offer marketers over more traditional mediums. For example, consumers with Samsung Galaxy Note/II devices are four times more likely to watch Mobile TV than the average smartphone owner. This has big implications for the price of mobile TV rights, as well the audience size and effectiveness of mobile advertising.
NFC, or Near Field Communication, was one of the key buzzwords at the conference last year. This year, the show organisers went all out, allowing delegates to ‘fly through security’ using an NFC pass. The few times I tried to use this, it took roughly three times as long as simply showing your passport and physical badge. For me, this is one of the key problems with NFC – the technology is there but nobody has found a particularly good use for it. InGermany, just 1.4% of smartphone owners have used NFC over the past month, compared to 7% which have bought a product or service directly through their smartphone. I expect it will take Apple’s experience of bringing new innovative technologies to market before we really understand why we need it. New technologies are only adopted when they make life easier, or the experience better.
And what about Android?
The absence of Android from the show told a big story in itself – particularly considering the attention it grabbed last year. Manufacturers using Android have struggled to create real points of differentiation in the eyes of consumers. By disappearing from view, Android gave handset manufacturers the opportunity to showcase their own brand and content to consumers, without the constant reminder that all devices on the platform are essentially working from the same software.
With over 70,000 delegates and 1,500 exhibitors, MWC is a must-attend event for those who want to understand the latest opportunities and areas of growth within the mobile industry. And the resounding message from this year’s conference was that marketers must turn their focus to emerging markets if they want to be ahead of the game and continue to expand.
Dominic Sunnebo, global consumer insight director, Kantar Worldpanel ComTech