With all the invitations to receptions and the swirling rumors about secret demos, it's easy to get lost in the weeds at the Mobile World Congress, which will open its curtain next Monday in Barcelona.
Much ink has been spilled on Nokia's first (and maybe last) Android handset, designed before Microsoft cut a deal last fall to buy Nokia's handset business; Samsung's new Galaxy S5, to be announced at the Samsung Unpackaged event Monday; and Sony's renewed mobile push at a time when the company's future hangs in the balance.
Beyond such details as screen sizes, application processors, and cosmetic designs and colors of new, shiny devices (all obviously very important to many consumers), I see five unmistakable trends at this year's Mobile World Congress. Trickles from these new trends have leaked out in recent months. But now the signs are coming in a torrent -- destined to change the nature of the Mobile World Congress and the electronics industry at large.
The "thing" connection
First and foremost, smartphones won't be for long the only star at MWC.
This might be a hard pill for some handset vendors, but the reality is that network operators, under constant pressure to add more revenues, are seriously looking at connecting their networks to things other than mobile handsets. Examples include connected cars, smart buildings, smart cities, and wearable devices.
What used to be called M2M (machine-to-machine) has turned into IoT (Internet of Things). Operators are buying the hype, drinking the Kool-Aid, swallowing the snake oil. Pick your metaphor.
Operators that must identify their next growth opportunities are diverting their attention away from smartphones now. Expect to see operators beginning to pick new platforms (Remember, AT&T CEO Ralph de la Vega sharing stage with Audi Chairman Rupert Stadler at CES?) and focus on specific partnerships.