Unresolved questions about the Nokia–Microsoft tie-up hung heavily over Barcelona today like the grey clouds and drizzle which seem to have become an unwelcome feature of the Mobile World Congresses in this city.

February 15, 2011

5 Min Read
#MWC Day 1: Rainy Monday
Mobile World Congress

By Mark Newman

Unresolved questions about the Nokia–Microsoft tie-up hung heavily over Barcelona today like the grey clouds and drizzle which seem to have become an unwelcome feature of the Mobile World Congresses in this city.

The Two Steves made two stage appearances – first last night when they addressed the world’s media and then this morning to the analyst community – and added some flesh to Friday’s announcement of Nokia‘s adoption of Microsoft’s WP7 OS. The name Ovi is to be consigned to history although some Ovi services may make their way into new Nokia WP7 products. Nokia Maps for example, will power Microsoft’s Bing search engine. And the first Nokia WP7 device will be available before the end of the year.

But it is much less clear how Nokia will secure the “billions of dollars of benefits” that Elop says Nokia will derive from Microsoft. Sharing applications revenues is one potential source but will not, in itself, amount to a huge amount.

Similarly, there has to be some doubt as to whether Nokia can ship enough Symbian devices to maintain its market share before the first WP7 devices come off the production line.

It’s going to be a tough couple of years for the Finnish company whose success has become synonymous with Europe’s mobile phone sector. The sight of two Americans and two Microsoft executives (one past and one present) on the stage at a Nokia press briefing is something that those of us who have witnessed the Nokia’s rise to market dominance over the last 20 years thought would never come to pass.

Sunday evening and Monday also saw other handset vendors parading their new wares.

Samsung’s Mobile Unpacked event, yesterday, saw Samsung take three important steps forward. Notably, all were Android-related announcements.

First and most importantly, Samsung unveiled the Galaxy S II. This high-end smartphone combines Samsung’s hardware expertise, with Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) and several Samsung-own software / content innovations to deliver what is surely a contender for best new smartphone of MWC11.

Secondly, Samsung made a series of announcements that will make Samsung’s future Android devices much more enterprise friendly. This is definitely a segment that Samsung can exploit while its competitors work to catch up.

Lastly, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 adds to the company’s growing stable of tablets, in the quest to find a niche where it can compete against the iPad.

At an impressive 8.4mm thin, which Samsung assures us is the world’s thinnest smartphone, the Korean vendor has managed to pack in a large batter (1650mAh) up to 32GB of memory. 1GHz dual core baseband a quad core apps processor and an NFC option. Clearly the phone’s low profile is helped by the thinness of Samsung’s 4.27 inch super AMOLED plus screen. Importantly, the phone is also a light 117g. And that’s just the hardware.

The Galaxy S II is also noteworthy as it demonstrates how Samsung, which has long excelled at hardware, is improving its in-house software expertise. Here, the Korean vendor has clearly benefited from gaining early access to the Gingerbread code on the Nexus S to deliver a differentiated Android experience.

TouchWiz 4.0 appears first on the Galaxy S II, offering more customisability, including widget resizing, and the devices is also Samsung’s first to feature the company’s four content hubs: Social Hub, Readers Hub, Game Hub and Music Hub. Samsung also unveiled some impressive The Galaxy S II also marks Samsung’s step into the enterprise market with Android.

Sony Ericsson announced two new Xperia smartphone devices, the most interesting of which, Xperia Play, is an Android-based gaming device. It is the first attempt since Nokia’s ill-fated N-Gage handset to launch a device dedicated to the gaming community. But we expect it to be warmly –welcomed by the operator community as it represents another connected device that they can sell to consumers. “Got a smartphone and a connected tablet already? What you need is an Xperia Play. It can even make phone calls.”

Another reason we’re expecting operators to support the Sony Ericsson Play is because it gives them a role in billing for the games that their customers download. Indeed, carrier billing is set to become a major theme at this year’s show. RIM announced that a number of operators including Telefonica will be billing their customers for Blackberry apps. It also turns out that the most popular application requested by developers in the OneAPI trial in Canada last year was carrier billing.

Mobile money generally also featured strongly in conversations with operators. Visa is stepping up its activities – with or without operators – and has identified an opportunity to use embedded NFC capabilities to allow merchants to charge more than the current Euro20 limit for NFC payment using plastic. Every mobile operator now feels that it needs to have a strong mobile money strategy but they are struggling to find examples beyond the much-quoted Safaricom in Kenya of successful deployments.

There have been a plethora of announcements today that all sit under the smart network umbrella. WiFi features prominently with Cisco demonstrating seamless WiFi/3G handover for Hong Kong operator PCCW and the femto community acknowledging that hybrid cellular/WiFi solutions are inevitable. Vendors are now competing on who is best suited to managing chaos in operators’ networks rather than tying their colours to one particular technology mask.

Over at the conference venue it was a quiet day until Steve Ballmer hit the floor at 4pm, shortly followed by Twitter CEO Dick Costolo.

Ballmer noted that in the handset space we are now “moving from device battle to a platform battle”. He drew attention to Internet Explorer 9 with HTML 5 browsing which will be coming to Windows phones shortly, to Microsoft’s multitasking capabilities and to the various content hubs that come with the platform.

Earlier in the day a whole session was dedicated to mobile health with AT&T declaring that it could cut $1,500 to $2,000 per year off the cost of monitoring a diabetes sufferer over the course of the year.

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