Day One from Mobile World Congress in Barcelona

I’m spending the week in Barcelona at the Mobile World Congress. Mob4Hire (of which I am CEO) is part of the Canadian Pavilion, so I thought I’d share my experiences, both from a Canadian perspective as well as from my personal journey here.

First, of all, big time thanks to both the Federal and Provincal govt’s (while many others have been involved, thanks ‘specially to Leanne and Heli!). As a small Canadian micro-multinational mobile startup, our participation in the booth is very much appreciated; giving all the companies a valuable footprint in a massive show. To give you some perspective of the size, we are in building 2 of the 7 building Fira Barcelona complex, with 50,000+ attendees expected this week.

Things got underway last night, or Day 0, if you will. After setting up our booth, we went to the Canadian Consulate, where Canadian trade commissioners from around the world, Spanish commissioners as well as private industry came together for some awesome tapas and a group heartfelt missing of the Vancouver Olympics.

Then, it was off to Mobile Sunday. This was a gathering of mobile developers from the over 70 chapters of Mobile Monday organizations around the world. We saw a lot of old friends… this is a must stop every year for any mobile developer who is looking for birds of a feather, and the greatly expanded space held at least 200 hundred people.

Today, the show started in earnest. Not surprisingly, there is a tremendous emphasis on mobile apps and mobile app development at the show this year. When I think of just one year ago, there was only one app store in existence: Apple, and at this show in 2009, 10 new ones were announced (Blackberry App World, Nokia Ovi Store, etc…). A year later, and there are now a total of 48 mobile app stores, and a whole building 7 “AppPlanet” devoted to the phenomenon.

The big announcement regarding apps was mobile operators uniting on a common global apps platform. This is response to the continuing problem that plagues the mobile industry; device and operator fragmentation, as well as a consolidated front in the battle for app store mindshare with the handset manufacturers (who seem to be winning at this point).

Part of Mob4Hire’s business is founded on this whole mess, so here’s my two-cents-worth opinion: not gonna work. We’ve done some recent research that shows mobile apps / store are the key differentiator when people select a carrier / handset combination; it will be difficult for carriers to differentiate when their app stores are the same, not to mention the API’s to their operator services. Operators are intense competitors, so I can’t imagine great co-operation when it comes to the primary aspect of their business with their customers. Time will tell …

The other big announcement I saw today was the introduction of Windows Phone 7. The demo was very impressive, and showed an integrated and immersive personal experience across mobile, desktop and the cloud. I suspect they put the “7” into the name because of the success they’ve seen with Windows Desktop 7 and wanted to extend that goodwill to their phone O/S. We’ll probably see first handsets in market leading up to Christmas, and to say the least, Microsoft has done a great job at challenging the status quo of both their old tired Windows Mobile as well as the current competitive smartphone market. I do wonder about how their ecosystem will react… the developers and handset manufacturer partners as Microsoft has stepped up into a even bigger driver seat position… but whatever the case, interesting times in the mobile Wild West!

The Canadian Pavilion traffic was brisk and busy all day. The Mob4Hire team splintered into two groups… I headed off to the Motodev Developer Conference (a show within the show), where I sat on a panel concerning Android Apps and Marketplace Distribution Channels. There are now about 28,000 Android apps available, with about 4,000 new ones be posted every month. The number of Android handsets being launched is incredible; in 2010, Motorola alone will be releasing 20 new handset models. Gartner anticipates Android as being the second smartphone platform by 2012 (behind Nokia).

Our next door neighbors at the Pavilion was Ottawa’s Gesturetek, who won the GSMA Mobile Innovation Global award at this show two years ago. That’s a big deal, by the way… competing against 1500+ other companies. Anyway, they’ve got a great technology that uses the phone’s camera to detect hand and face movements, and integrate them with the phone display. I played a game of virtual soccer while sitting in front of a Nokia 95. They’ve gone on to great success after their award win; their technology is in millions of handsets. Kudos to yet another under the radar technology success story!

Tonight, the Mobile Peer Awards take place, where 20 companies vie to become #1 of the hundreds of entries received from all the various Mobile Monday chapters (Mob4Hire proudly came in 2nd last year!). More mobile to come from day 2 …