MWC17 post-game: The taxonomy of MWC is changing, but not much else

Credit: GSMA

Nokia has through nostalgia created some excitement in the mobile phone industry but elsewhere the signs of maturity at MWC17 were everywhere.

The notable fallout coming from Microsoft, Blackberry, Huawei among others who have substantially reduced the sizes of their stands was replaced with:

  • Automakers who outside of BMW still seemed to be a little unsure of what they are doing at MWC. They have realized that mobile holds the key to preventing them from becoming Android handsets on wheels, but are very uncertain how they intend to address this problem. I think that Tesla has a very good idea of what it is doing in this space and consequently does not feel that it needs to be at MWC.
  • An endless list of handset brands who are all selling almost exactly the same device where the proposition is very unclear. Two exceptions are Wiko and LeEco, who are at least trying to offer points of differentiation on the device, even if they are having a very hard time doing so. Condor from Algeria and Accent from Morocco are doing stock Android, but are attempting to achieve some differentiation by focusing on their respective regions.

Furthermore, the app industry, largely present in Hall 8.0/8.1 and the hallways, has moved into a new phase of development.

Gone are the heady days of 2015 when it was all about adding users at any cost. Now the focus is clearly on engagement, analytics and monetization. Developed markets are pretty much saturated from a user perspective, meaning that figuring out how to delight those users and making sure that they stay engaged is of paramount importance.

Consequently, the suit count in Hall 8.1 has gone up substantially as has the size of the average stand. This implies that many of the smaller, ineffective players have been weeded out, leaving the bigger players who have much larger marketing budgets.

Consequently MWC has revealed an industry that looks very mature (just like it did in 2005) … but this time I can’t see anything on the horizon to upset the status quo.

I continue to prefer the ecosystems over the handset and PC makers in general as they, at least, have a way to differentiate.

What’s hot and what’s not at MWC


Along with the number of drones, the number of VR units on the stands has fallen substantially compared to last year. I think that this is because last year, VR was a novelty that everyone wanted to try, but interest has now waned, as very little has changed in 12 months.

VR has hugely disappointed in terms of user adoption and there was very little that is new and exciting being offered on the stands. I think that this is symptomatic of the limitations that plague VR, and until these limitations are properly addressed, VR will continue to disappoint.

AR has exactly the same problems, with the exception that it has plenty of applications in the enterprise where the content, comfort and price limitations are less important. Consequently, those AR companies that are focused on productivity applications are likely to fare better in the short term. I would steer clear of any investment dependent on VR for now, and HTC in particular.

Jolla – last man standing

Jolla has shown remarkable resilience to the difficult conditions that have caused its competitors to fall by the wayside. I think Sailfish is now the only really viable alternative to Android.

Furthermore, the market environment has become far more favorable with both Russia and China far less willing to allow US controlled software into their networks than they were three or four years ago. Russia has certified Sailfish as an approved OS for state owned enterprises which Jolla is now actively trying to leverage into China.

There, it has announced the creation of the Sailfish China Consortium which aims to take the core Sailfish OS, and adapt it for Chinese enterprises that wish to have software over which they have full control. The consortium has three Chinese entities that have expressed an interest in joining.

It has also got some interest from Latin America but it is still quite early days.

This creates credibility for Jolla and raises the potential for Jolla to get some revenues in the door in order to keep the ship afloat. It is still early days, but the dark days of 2016, when the ship looked like it was holed below the waterline, look to be behind it.

Artificial intelligence

Artificial Intelligence made a big appearance at the show this year, but most companies demonstrating it still do not seem to have absorbed what AI really is.

There are many robots from Asia that are billed as AI but can only respond to a series of pre-programmed responses. In a similar vein, many companies are touting their service or app as being driven by AI, but when one looks under the hood, one finds little more than advanced statistics.

AI is currently the realm of the big companies who can afford the very high salaries that AI engineers can now demand and have the balance sheet to continue investing for a long period of time. The exception is tiny start-ups that have come out of universities but already these companies are very hot property.

I have no doubt that AI will be a major differentiator and driver of the digital mobile ecosystem over the next ten years, but developing AI is still an incredibly difficult, time -onsuming and expensive task.

In AI, I continue to look for those that are developing:

  • The ability to train AIs using much less data than today
  • The creation of an AI that can take what it has learned from one task and apply it to another
  • The creation of AI that can build its own models rather than relying on humans to do it.

I consider fixing these problems as essential to fulfilling the dreams that so many companies effusively discuss but have no idea how they will fulfill.

This article was originally published as two separate posts on RadioFreeMobile

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