When the earth moved for ICT

March 14th, 2014, Published in Articles: EE Publishers, Articles: EngineerIT


by Arthur Goldstuck, WordWideWorx

At the end of February 2014, the earth moved. It wasn’t a seismic event, but in the world of information and communications technology, it represented a clear movement of the tectonic plates underlying the industry.

Arthur Goldstuck

Arthur Goldstuck

The event was Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, which has long been a focal point of mobile device launches and showcases. But in the wider landscape, beyond mobile, it always played second fiddle to the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, which typically preceded it by about six weeks.

CES is the venue for the big consumer device launches of the year, from TV to tablet, from mobile to “makers”. It tends to host several major smartphone launches – last year including Sony, Lenovo and Huawei – while others occur at stand-alone events.

This year, new smartphones were almost invisible at CES. Even Sony waited a week before launching its Xperia Z1 Mini, designed to compete with the iPhone. Lenovo, with its new Vibe Z phone, was one of the few CES loyalists in the phone space.

The real action, this time round, was all reserved for CES. Even major players who had previously launched devices independently of the big shows, descended on Barcelona with their launch banners in tow.

Samsung, which usually creates massive hype around its Unpacked events, and reserves MWC for showcasing its range, produced its biggest unveil yet on the opening day of the show. The new Galaxy S5, Galaxy Gear 2 watches and the Gear Fit “smartband”, were all launched on February 24 during MWC. That very morning, Sony had unveiled its new flagship phone, the XPeria Z2, along with its second generation SmartBand and Z2 Tablet, the thinnest tablet computer in the world.

Nokia, too, had been busy that morning: it unveiled the Nokia X family of phones that are compatible with Android apps – the mortal enemy of its new owner, Microsoft, which would have preferred Nokia to stick to Windows Phone.

The next morning, the beleaguered BlackBerry took to the stage, with new CEO John Chen unveiling the BlackBerry Z3 (no relation to Sony), a low-cost 5” touchscreen phone aimed at emerging markets. The real news was that he was joined at the podium by Terry Gou, founder of Foxconn, which makes most of Apple’s devices and has signed a deal to build smartphones for BlackBerry.

The up-and-coming and also-ran also tried their luck. Lenovo and ZTE both launched new flagship devices, while Huawei and HTC unpacked new mid-range devices.

What does it all mean, aside from a new plethora of choice for the consumer?

Simply this: that Barcelona is the new epicenter of the mobile industry, with almost every major brand abandoning Las Vegas and other American tech hubs for their big reveals.

This in turn symbolises the fact that North America is no longer the dominant market for new smartphones. The fault lines that radiate out from Las Vegas and New York City to the world’s biggest consumer market are suddenly less prone to earthquake action than those running under Barcelona.

Asia, Africa and Europe, in particular, are the growth markers that will shape the mobile industry for the next few years. And those are markets that were never served particularly well from the United States. Communication may be global, but communication markets remain regional, and the action inevitably shifts to the regions with the most potential.

Contact Arthur Goldstuck, WorldWideWorx, Tel 011 782-7003, arthur@worldwideworx.com

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