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MWC 2009 Wrapup: My view of the event and the market

pocketgpsworld.comFor me the 2009 Mobile World Congress was all about location. I know that the last few years have been the same, but this year everyone was talking location.

The industry seems to have woken up and realised that the mobile phone market is not A-B navigation, indeed A-B navigation is an incidental way down the list of priorities. Towards the top is "Where am I?" or more precisely "What is around me?". This is starting to be integrated into social networking so it extends to "Who is around me?". We are now seeing this functionality consolidating into LBS applications for the phone. To a certain extent this makes a lot of sense. If you are in a car you don''t want to be squinting at a small screen, listening to a tinny speaker with no volume. Likewise if you are walking you don''t want to lug your heavy PND around in your pocket. This then allows the software to be tailored specifically for your device and the potential uses you would put it to.

On the hardware side of things Android and the iPhone were on peoples lips, but Apple did not have a presence and Android phones were few and far between... Maybe next year when the platform is more established will be the year of the Android. On the Apple front we are seeing lots of companies with iPhone applications, and some openly displaying the "banned" turn by turn navigation applications. With the two platforms we see the difference highlighted between an open system and a controlled system. The only restrictions on the Android platform are the hardware limits, on the Apple front you are tied to a strict contract and any application developed has to pass the Apple App Police and then can only be distributed through the App Store with Apple taking a cut.

It is good to see some new faces like Acer (even though they have acquired e-Ten) and Asus two of the big Consumer Electronics companies entering the market. We also have new devices from HTC (which will be rebranded by carriers) and iMate, not to mention Nokia, LG, Samsung, Sony Ericsson etc. The introduction of capacitive touch screens is now allowing the manufacturers to include much better, brighter and higher contrast displays. All in all we are moving forwards not in leaps and bounds, but steadily and surely.

Another "big thing" this year was the introduction of MID (Mobile Internet Devices). These are based around the Intel Atom processor and typically are larger wide screen devices with a myriad of connection options to allow you to have |Internet access wherever you are. Most of the devices have built in GPS and can run all sorts of OS, typically full Windows or Linux. Most of the devices we saw looked like late model prototypes though some like the Clarion MID were production models. There is a long way to go with these devices with development required both on finish, software and User Interface, but it wouldn''t surprise me to find these replacing PNDs in the next couple of years.

Whilst the theme was still Location, there is still the perennial problem of consolidating all the components and suppliers to provide a full user experience. Apple have shown how to do it with the iPhone and the App Store, but the carriers still seem to be a barrier to mass adoption of the LBS services.

First and foremost there is the issue of data charges, you can get an unlimited data tariff in a single country now at a reasonable price, but roaming is still a big problem. Europe must adopt a similar approach to Mobile Tariffs as the US has done. There must be full access throughout Europe without roaming charges.

The next problem is one of ownership nobody seems to want to take ownership of a full infrastructure package... We see companies like Navteq who are starting to do this now by aggregating and distributing dynamic data, but we need some open standards for contribution, aggregation and distribution of data. I overheard one French Carrier say that they were like ADSL, they provide a connection and you can do what you want with it. Others want data and services but are not willing to pay the data owners, just wanting free data...

This is a trend started by Google, and we are now seeing the knock on effects of it. Google consolidates free data sources and distributes them for free. The processing of the data and infrastructure obviously costs money to maintain, but they recoup this through advertising. This business model is now extending into navigation and LBS. I am not convinced that this is a good thing unless all parties involved in providing data and services are fairly recompensed for their input, if not then we will be relying on voluntary data which can be of questionable quality.

The show itself was well down on attendance despite a claim that 49,000 people had registered. The easy way to tell this was the availability of hotel rooms, and the ease that restaurant tables could be booked, but the most sure way was the fact that you could actually move in Hall 8 where the big handset companies exhibit. Another sure was to tell was that you could actually make and receive mobile phone calls. With over 50,000 people in attendance last year it was almost impossible to use the device that the show was all about.

So in conclusion I believe the show was a big success once again, with a lot of promise of new technologies both hardware and software to come. After four years it seems as if LBS and more particularly Location Aware Social Networking is coming to the fore. I suspect that the carriers have missed out on a golden opportunity to create the infrastructure for LBS services and will be left as effectively Wireless ISPs providing connectivity only. The Apple business model seems to have opened a lot of minds and doors with other companies like Nokia introducing similar systems. Internet everywhere (or at least connected devices) seems to be the way things are going. The year ahead will still be exciting, despite the current economic climate.

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