MWC from Afar, 2010 Edition

IMG_0086.JPGIt’s February, which can only mean one thing in mobile — MWC in Barcelona. I’ve stayed home in Las Vegas again this year as I finish up my MBA courses, but I’ve been living vicariously through Twitter and following along with the news, while looking at pictures of jamon (see right). A number of topics and stories have caught my eye so far. If you’re at MWC or playing along at home, share your thoughts on what’s been going on this week in the comments.

Predictably, there’s been plenty of news about app stores. The biggest news was the announcement of the Wholesale Applications Community, a consortium of about 30 operators and device vendors that are going to work together on a common app store platform. Sounds good, right? Making it easier for developers to get their apps to market (a market of some 3 billion users represented by these operators) is a great thing. But why leave well enough alone?

In addition, the alliance will utilise existing technical standards, rather than creating new ones to allow developers to access operators’ assets, for example network capabilities or API’s (Application Programming Interfaces) more easily. In practice this means that developers will only have to create one version of their application and this can be used on multiple types of devices and operating systems (such as Symbian, Android, Windows etc) which is not the case today.

(Fill in your own comment here.) I’ll have some more thoughts on WAC in a later post, for sure.

There’s been some news on the mobile OS front as well. Microsoft announced the latest version (7) of Windows Mobile — now, it’s Windows Phone — and Intel and Nokia annouced they were merging their Moblin and Maemo mobile Linux projects to form “MeeGo”.

Windows Phone 7 looks pretty slick, but I don’t find that too surprising. The big challenge will be convincing handset vendors to devote resources to building great devices with it, and to successfully navigate the shift from an enterprise-focused product to a consumer-based one. They also face a Palm-like challenge in drawing developers back to the platform.

I don’t find the MeeGo news all that interesting on one level (Nokia’s Ari Jaaksi has a good rundown of how he sees the project), but on another level, the growing collaboration between Nokia and Intel is a little more fascinating. Definitely something to keep an eye on.

And what would MWC be without some new devices? These four caught my eye:
– The Puma Phone, made by Sagem. There have been plenty of branded devices before, but most of them haven’t been very impressive. I like this one a lot, though, because it doesn’t seem to be relying so heavily on the Puma brand as it’s only attraction. It’s got a lot of fun features and applications, and a solar charger on the back. I like this direction — making the UI of a mobile device fun. Interesting.
– HTC unveiled its latest Android devices, the Desire and the Legend. Check out the specs and features if you like, but I think the design of the two handsets is the real attraction here.
– And at the opposite end of the market, Vodafone’s $15 handset, aimed at developing markets in Africa and India. Pretty amazing that a $15 device can be profitable, and the VF150 also supports m-payments, given its buyers what’s essentially a bank account as well as a mobile phone.

Network capacity remains an issue. Dean Bubley has his usual adept roundup of what’s been said about it, while the CEO of RIM says networks would be a lot less crowded if we all bought BlackBerrys. Vodafone’s CEO is pretty worried about bandwidth-hungry content eating up his networks, too — unless he’s allowed to charge content providers for access to his customers.

Finally, what would MWC be without some of the usual suspects, those stories and topics that come around year after year without ever really seeming to get anywhere. Two great examples so far:
“Symbian joins Adobe’s Open Screen Project for Flash compatibility”. I think it was the first 3GSM I went to, I met with Macromedia (the then-owners of Flash) and bought into the idea of Flash on mobiles. Sounded great, but we all know how it’s turned out. I’ve seen some stuff with it here and there (including its success in Japan), but it seems like nary a mobile event goes by without this sort of partnership press release. We’re well past that generating any excitement — time for some results.
– You could probably file widgets in the same category. Still there, but maybe there’s a little movement.

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