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  • Writer's pictureSlashData Team

Learnings from the Mobile World Congress: 10 predictions for MWC 2009 (part 1)


[Trying to figure out what are the key takeways from this year’s MWC conference in Barcelona ? Research Director Andreas Constantinou reads between the lines of the MWC happenings and predicts the undercurrent of changes which will be surfacing at MWC 2009]

Mobile World Congress (3GSM for the romantics) was another year of industry partying – not just the late evening parties, but more importantly the hubbub and cheering around new products, partnerships and acquisitions.

Pretty much everyone’s chat-up line at Barcelona was ‘so what have you seen here?’ – I guess mostly because there was no big theme, no overarching hype, no glitz around the next killer app or megapipe technology. Oh, and fortunately, the industry is beginning to look at reality, not hype with the last two MWCs.

So, in developing a response to this banal question, a few recurring themes started to emerge. Themes which were mostly not about things you could see or hear at Barcelona, but the undercurrent of changes that could only be seen by reading between the lines of both announcements and non-announcements.

And so, I decided to risk a set of 10 predictions for MWC 2009, as the clearest affirmation of learnings and key-takeaways from this year’s Barcelona mega-fair. Here they are, in no particular order.

Prediction 1: A new would-be Trolltech will surface as an on-device service delivery platform Analysis: Nokia acquired Trolltech for its Qt application execution platform, and specifically for two reasons (see our detailed analysis of the acquisition): a) to use Qt as a service substrate, an on-device platform which wraps each one of 10s of forthcoming Ovi services across the 10s or 100s of connected device models across PCs, home & embedded appliances and mobile devices. On-device software is these days as essential to service providers as Google Gears and Android are to Google. b) to tap into the respectable, established developer base for Qt (particularly swarmed around the KDE desktop flavour of Linux), and in this way get a helping hand for developing Ovi wrappers based on Qt. Given that every OEM (not just mobile, but also in the embedded space) is now looking at deploying connected services, a Trolltech wannabee would be a prime acquisition target for connected device manufacturers (Sony Ericsson, Sony, Panasonic, LG come to mind).

Prediction 2: There will be 30+ companies offering widgets-in-an-app type of software solution Analysis: ECMAscript (the standardised flavour of Javascript) allows any small software vendor to develop a key application (read: calendar, contacts, email, idle screen, album viewer or music player) that includes widgets. Widgets are an on-device service delivery platform, albeit one that is restricted to a single app and a single device model (it doesn’t port as easily). ECMAscript implementations are becoming more ubiquitous thanks to both open source efforts (Adobe’s Tamarin and Apple’s JavaScriptCore in particular) and closed source, optimised implementations (e.g. the one developed by Bling Software). However, many vendors will discover that offering widgets in any app is not a cash-cow and comes with long and painful sales cycles. Plus the porting effort across device models is non trivial, and exactly why Trolltech gives an economy-of-scale advantage to Nokia when porting services across 10s or 100s of connected device models.

Prediction 3: Qt will be relicensed under a more permissive license Analysis: Qt is offered under a dual-licensing model; GPLv3 version as a try-before-you-buy and a commercial royalty-bearing version. Nokia wants to license Qt to other device manufacturers as a service delivery vehicle for Ovi, and so will have to sweeten the pill, as the previous take-it-as-is S60 strategy has pretty much failed (only a handful of non-Nokia S60 models are launched every year, making up a tiny percentage volume-wise to Nokia S60 devices). My prediction (and indeed a bold one) is that Nokia will change the licensing model for Qt to a more permissive one, such as an MIT, BSD or Apache 2.0 license. Naturally, the Ovi-specific parts of Qt will remain closed as with S60 WebKit, but a permissive license will allow OEMs to see Qt not as a threat, but as an opportunity to build more value on top, for a reduced cost (rather than maintaining their own platforms).

Prediction 4: Two companies offering WebKit derivative implementations will be acquired Analysis: Without a doubt, WebKit, the core browser engine for rendering HTML and scripting, is becoming exceedingly popular. Companies like Wake3, Pleyo, Torch Mobile and SkyFire have emerged in the last six months to offer WebKit derivative implementations for OEMs and MNOs, in addition to Nokia’s S60 WebKit, Nokia’s Web Runtime and Motorola’s WebUI who are already using WebKit (more OEMs are on the way!). WebKit is also a mature, time-tested and standardised plaform for operator service delivery beyond the browser. I believe that WebKit derivative implemenations will become mandated by mobile network operators (MNOs) in 12-18 months – at least in Europe initially. The host of OEM and MNO players who want to get in the on-device service delivery business will look to rapidly develop expertise and talent in this area by acquiring solution vendors offering WebKit customisation, porting or value adds.

Prediction 5: A device model designed by Danger will be developed and launched by at least two ODMs. Analysis: Microsoft’s acquisition of Danger is due to a rather simple reasoning; The lack of consumer-driven sales of Windows Mobile devices is because there are no fun devices based on this platform. This is because of two reasons: a) ODMs don’t have industrial design skills, nor the cash flow to invest in risky form factors and un-brick-like materials. ODMs see Windows Mobile, as a surefire way to get into market and leverage on the marketing mussle of the Redmond giant, like debris at the tail of a comet. b) OEMs have used Windows Mobile as a means to sell into the enterprise market. Windows Mobile offers a plug-and-play approach for enterprise admins as its security, remote management and seamless Office integration features are no-brainer purchase criteria which drive enterprise sales of Windows Mobile.

As a result, all Windows Mobile devices lack the ‘fun’ factor that Sony Ericsson, Nokia, Samsung, LG and Motorola devices sport. In a reactionary move, Microsoft bought Danger in order to imbue its ODM projects with not just a software reference and a hardware reference platform (which it already has thanks to TI), but also industrial design references. Note that Danger is a software/hardware/industrial design house, in a sense a fabless OEM – the same design house which is behind the recognisably cool Sidekick devices. In this light, the acquisition makes a lot of sense for Microsoft. The acquisition is also particularly well timed, as the company plans to launch Windows Mobile 7 which features a highly configurable UI customisation layer – the customisable UI marks an inflexion point from Microsoft’s previous strategy of enforcing the Windows signature UI across all licensees.

In conclusion, following Microsoft’s past history of ODM launches we should see at least two ODM device models based on Danger designs launch in the next 12 months leading to 3GSM 2009.

Coming next Next week: the remaining five predictions for 3GSM 2009, including enterprise UIs, the rise and fall of Modu, M&As amongst Linux vendors, OHA devices: cheap but ugly, the demise unstable future of UIQ and distributors as a route to market (see Synchronica, Bling) – ok, I ‘m cheating that makes for 11 trends, but stay tuned!

– Andreas

(while on the topic of predictions, make sure to check out our hugely successful Mobile Megatrends 2008 series. Full presentation below.)

[slideshare id=209579&doc=mobile-megatrends-2008-vision-mobile-1198237688220186-3&w=425]


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