Last year’s Mobile World Congress was greeted with cautious optimism that has since been replaced by real enthusiasm within an industry that continues to explore its potential

In preparing for this year’s Mobile World Congress I’ve been taking a look at the trends and insights that emerged from last year’s congress and seeing how far the mobile industry has come since then.

Edelman’s Kevin Bossi noted that last year’s event was approached with a kind of cautious optimism that was understandable after a year in 2009 that showed growth in mobile data services but financial instability around the world.

In 2011, this cautious optimism has given way to real excitement around a mobile market that is continually pushing its boundaries and seen as a driver for social and economic development. As ever the scope of the industry continues to grow and this offers up opportunities at the same time raising questions about how businesses define themselves.

The trends and themes from last year’s Mobile World Congress point to an industry that is reaching deeper into the lives of consumers while still exploring how far existing and new technologies can be pushed.

New Enthusiasm, Old Challenges

There has been excitement around new developments in devices with tablet computing taking hold in the market and new networking technologies like LTE hopefully solving mobile data challenges. Apps and gaming have also shown that the opportunities within the mobile market are still vast and not always easy to predict.

From looking at these innovations and the trends from MWC10, the question of the operators’ role in the mobile ecosystem is still one that has yet to be answered. It isn’t an easy question and one that is becoming even more difficult to answer. Pricing, bundled services and increased penetration won’t be generating buzz in the exhibition hall but they are all very real for operators as they try to convert network traffic into revenue gains. Operators have an uncertain future as they watch a vibrant market and seek to carve out a leadership role in it.

What is certain is that the mobile industry as a whole is being seen as a force for good. Mobile Money services are expanding as operators partner across verticals, mHealth is bringing efficiency to healthcare while the increased depth of wireless networking and affordable handsets bring more people online. While the buzz amongst technology journalists has been about the role of mobile phone and social networking in uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, they are already being used in the democratic process in Africa particularly in Uganda as well as regions across the continent.

Lessons to Learn

Emerging markets aren’t just taking advantage of new services as we saw at MWC10. Some of the largest brand presence at the event were from vendors and operators from outside of Europe and North America. Expect to see Huawei , ZTE, HTC on the hardware side and China Telecom, Bharti Airtel and Turkcell to be well represented again this year. Revelations about the Chinese government’s aid to its equipment vendor was not surprising and will not slow these companies down as they continue to take market share from Western mainstays in the equipment market.

What will be exciting is to see what lesson both operators and manufactures from emerging markets have to teach the industry about new services and what they see sustaining growth in the future. Players in emerging market will have some distinct lessons to share and it plays into an overall theme of this year’s congress. While technology is certainly at the core of the mobile industry, meeting the unique needs of different markets, communities and ultimately consumers is its goal.

A User-Centric Congress

Since last year’s congress there has been an increasing shift toward the user with a stronger emphasis on how people are using new technologies not just the technologies themselves. Consumers are more frequently asking themselves, “What can this technology do for me? What need does it meet and how does it improve the way I’m living my life?”

The tablet computing market has shown just how important it is to explain the usage scenarios of a device, not just the device capabilities. That is at least for competitors to the iPad that need a strong rational for why their device is superior and best meets the needs of the consumer.

Nowhere is the user more important than in the app market. MWC10 was awash with talk about apps ranging from mHealth to social media and what will be the next Angry Birds. The proliferation of apps and smartphones have allowed for greater levels of customization and allowed devices to offer suites services that can define a user’s experience.

More than ever it feels like the consumer is able to shape the future of the market and we’ll see this theme play out along side announcements around tablet computing, near field communications, LTE and gaming. All facets of the mobile industry from devices, the network and apps are all showing us something new and hopefully we’ll see a few surprises at this year’s event.

@Matthew_Whalley

@Edel_Telecom

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following Monday’s insight from the analyst community on the trends and expectations for the year ahead (check out the full post here), we thought we’d have a bash ourselves at predicting the future. so here are our suggestions for the year ahead – let us know whether you agree with us, or think we’re miles off the mark…

(also – to anyone reading this in December, you have *not* got an eye condition; those floating white dots across the screen are snow. it’s festive.)

…and we’re putting together a mobile special in case you think it’s a bit thin on mobility right now – watch this space in Jan for the 2011 mobile outlook according to Edelman Tech…

Predictions for 2011:

Larry picks a fight…with God

Larry Ellison will never be accused of being the shy retiring type. In fact one of the well known legends is that he bases a lot of his modus operandi around ‘The Art of War’ and over the years he has picked a fight with pretty much everyone in the industry. Bill Gates, Ray Lane, Craig Conway, Tom Siebel and more recently SAP and HP. Frankly there isn’t anyone really left to fight so the speculation surely must be that the only person worthy of a challenge is God. Given the old joke – "What’s the difference between God and Larry Ellison?…God doesn’t think he’s Larry" – this may not be the case.

Facebook emerges as a powerful content player

Just a stab in the dark, but I’d hazard that before 2011 is out we’ll see Facebook commissioning its own content – or co-creating content at least. The ‘Like’ function is powerful – whether for selling products or amplifying conversation around content. We know that young audiences are watching more online. I wouldn’t be surprised if Facebook will start working closely with production companies to push something like KateModern into stratospheric proportions – the first social entertainment blockbuster.

‘Do no evil’ Google becomes ‘Bad Google’

In some respects it seems almost stereotypical that a company that was once the darling of the industry is now beginning to look over its shoulder, as the mutterings begin to increase. Like Intel and Microsoft before then they have incurred the wrath of the regulators and how the company reacts next year will be interesting to watch.

Hopefully it will have learnt from the mistakes of others, but there’s the danger its senior leadership team has drunk a little too much of the ‘Kool Aid’.’There is no doubt that the ‘noughties’ belonged to Google and today it remains one of the key drivers of the IT industry, but it needs to sustain that growth to justify its market cap. As a result its moved into a number of different areas with mixed results…Google Wave (#fail), Android (#successtodate), GoogleTV (#waitandsee). Similarly it has had the high profile embarrassment around China, which has severely dented its reputation and competitors like Facebook, Youtube and even Microsoft are beginning to make in-roads on its heartland. 2011 may be a sticky year for Google.

We will all be buying coffee via our mobiles by the end of next year

Whether paying for stuff with your mobile, buying online credits, or using Square we’ll be seeing a lot more money changing hands, without touching hands. Much of the rest of the world already is – Africa and Asia are well ahead of Europe and US in this field, (indeed Gartner predict that 60% of this market in 2011 will be in Asia). But there is some key technology coming that will make phones that much smarter and make it that much easier for us all to get involved. Google has confirmed the next version of Android will support NFC (near field communication) chips, and it’s rumoured that iPhone 5 will have this functionality in-built. Nokia and RIM are both also expected to follow-suit.

Creative Agency "ownership" of social media

This year the classic PR v marketing battle was augmented by the arrival of "customer services" onto the scene. The range of customer and support services using social media to support their communications and contacts has led to them claiming ownership (and budget). A valid claim (like all the rest).

Next year customer relationship management (CRM) will join the fray under the moniker "social" CRM, linking customer databases with social media to define whether, when, how often, on what medium companies communicate with their customers.

I see loads of privacy and "ownership" issues but for any company who gets this right it could be huge.

There are however always pitfalls, and twitter is flooded with examples of companies ‘doing’ social media very well and responding to customers and issues, but the actual customer service department in the clients’ back office not following up. To avoid this becoming a fad or people losing faith in social media platforms as a channel, companies need to place the same focus on the back office customer services departments as they do in keeping pace with an external zeitgeist.

Gamification of Life

There’s a lot of chat about the ‘gaming of everyday life’. Truth is ‘social games’ like Farmville  actually aren’t very social (people tell their friends there are playing, but are they playing with friends and telling others? I think not). FourSquare is often touted as the best example of the gamification of life but personally, I don’t think it is a very good game.

To its credit I think it’s a very promising form of direct marketing and I’m sure we’ll see more coupons next year. More interesting – if more niche – social games are playthings like Chromoroma. These sorts of initiatives will continue to garner interest from the press and trend watchers. Whether or not they will engage enough people to become ‘mainstream’ is perhaps unlikely.  But in a game of influencing the influencers – this sort of creative approach will be a top scorer.

Murdoch will just give up with his paywall.

Personally I think it’s all a little too little too late – the industry has sat back and watched itself be destroyed – news on the internet will be, and will always be, free. If you can’t get what you want from The Times you’ll go somewhere else to find it. The quality argument, for me personally, doesn’t stack up, people generally will accept a lower quality if it costs them nothing.

Mobile and application based news might be a short-term saviour, and there will be winners and losers in this area next year. It’s perhaps true that people are prepared to pay for innovation and the novel – but even then, the future of the mobile experience looks set to be a browser/cloud based model. Mobile applications will go the same way as desktop applications at some point in the not too distant future (let’s say 2013 for arguments sake).

News will become hyper-local & hyper-social. A location based service will join forces with a news site for location centric news – what’s happening where you are right now….. bringing you nearer to……

……‘Where’s that ambulance going?’

I don’t think 2010 has quite been the year of location, as many though it might be. Less than 4% of mobile users are using this feature. It’s growing though and expect next year – with the rise in popularity of Foursquare and Facebook places (sorry Gowalla you missed the boat) – for the term “where am I now” to be more popular than ever.

Combine this with the fact that media is looking to innovate, to tap into the power of social, than I can see a very logical next step to be a combination of owned and user generated news to be pushed to users based on location.

What is happening in the world you’re in right now. Whether this is in combination with one of the aforementioned services or a plug-in to a site like the BBC, Digg or the Guardian, I think we’ll start to see this as a powerful service. Indirectly, this may then only serve to fuel citizen journalism, as people are alerted more easily to incidents / events happening close to them.

Someone will figure out how to give everything, no matter how small, an IP address

Long shot this one, and is based on boozy conversations with colleagues on the outerweb and the internet of things, that this could be the next big breakthrough – giving everything a link to the internet.

This could be as simple as me seeing a sofa or salt shaker and “liking” it in real time or adding instantly to an Amazon wish list via a connection to my smartphone. It will happen, perhaps not next year, but it’s always good to have an outlandish prediction – and hell most food products do now have a link to the web via barcodes.

Videogames will shift from products to entertainment services

By the end of 2011, most blockbusters games will turn into an subscription-based service instead of releasing a new iteration each year (i.e.: the Call of Duty franchise). We’ve already seen this happening with the Steam platform offering games as uploads, and annoying retail outlets in the process, but the next year could see this become even more prominent. Gamers are currently predominantly ‘owned’ by their console (although multi-console owners are increasingly more common), but game manufacturers could see a niche in the market for tying them into series through exclusive uploads, game advances and new episodes. Given the dedication the most successful games generate, this would seem a seamless next step.

Cloudy outlook;  another year of unfulfilled promise, the return of hardware storage, and Everything-As-A-Service?

Seriously, can someone just make the cloud revolution finally happen? It’s been on everyone’s lips for years – YEARS – but is 2011 the year the cloud actually becomes the tech saviour it’s lined up as? Granted, there are already plenty of services claiming ‘cloud’ services, but on closer inspection many of these are simply network servers – can we finally envisage a true cloud? If we are to do so, the main obstacle is going to be keeping such services reliable and absolutely, unrelentingly secure – it’s the security issue which has held adoption up in many instances.

And if the security issue does remain unconquerable, we could perhaps see the return of hardware storage with servers and SSDs, as the perceived risks around cloud computing create too many anxieties to warrant full adoption.

If the cloud DOES finally break loose, expect ‘EaaS’ – Everything-as-a-Service – a growing offers with more collaborative tools and more complete applications to be proposed; everything becomes “on demand” with the cloud.

Social media will finally arrive in the enterprise

We’ve already witnessed the growing adoption of social media in the enterprise – for both internal and external usage – and we can expect to see more of the same as IT decision makers start to impact the business strategy discussions.

Once the C Suite understand the role social media plays in business, and how it can (positively) impact business efficiency, we’ll see this boom. Social media is currently viewed as a distraction to staff, but once this misapprehension is dealt with, and its proper adoption, integration and monitoring is understood, enterprises will rush to get involved.

The key issue which needs tackling in 2011 is to dispel the perception of social media adoption being simply an ‘allow or deny’ decision. It is simply not that black and white, and different employees require differing access and controls. The workforce coming into industry now is that which has grown up with the likes of Facebook, and they’ll expect the same in business – and if they don’t get it, they’ll find a way around security to use it none the less. “Allow or deny” is no longer a valid debate.

and the consumerisation of IT won’t be restricted to social media…

…Bring-your-own

We can’t get enough of having a familiar device in our pocket, even in the workplace – we’re moving into the age of ‘bring your own’- your own technology, that is – into work. With more Millennials/Generation Y/the L’Oréal generation, whatever you want to call them, coming into the workplace, we’ll see a shift in the technology we use and how we use it altogether. Businesses will support the idea – in theory. Employees using a familiar device has the obvious efficiency advantages. However, whether organisations, and infrastructure, will be able to support alien devices is another thing. After all, there’s the usual security, technical, data protection and legal issues that cloud computing has been dealing with for years. It will certainly be a step in the right direction, but we may very well get there at a snail’s pace.

with thanks for the following for contributions:

@RogerDara

@cairbreUK

@LukeMackay

@JustinWestcott

@LucyDesaDavies

@wonky_donky