Mobile World Congress (MWC) is taking place on February 24 to 27 in Barcelona, and we spoke with Annette Zimmermann, principal research analyst at Gartner, for her thoughts on new developments in the mobile market.
Q: Wearable technologies were a focus at CES this year. What will be the main theme at MWC this year?
A: MWC will continue to cover the theme of wearables, but in a different way. MWC will bring the discussion back to the whole ecosystem of devices and the smartphone as the hub. The smartphone will remain the central communication point in users' lives. The new announcements in this space will relate to enhancements of the devices ecosystem (that is, apps, software and services), and how wearables can interact with the smartphone. I expect new services in the area of health and fitness that will exploit the early success of fitness bands we are currently experiencing. Hardware vendors without the know-how to offer such services need to partner with consumer brands in order to create product appeal.
Wearables are the "things" in the world of the Internet of Things, or rather a subset of all the things that will be connected to the Internet. Cars and household appliances will also play a big role, and I expect the connected car and the smart city to be important themes at the show. Watch this space!
Q: What important product announcements do you expect?
A: I expect most of the hardware vendors to announce new flagship products, as they do every year, with nice designs and interesting technology enhancements. However, what I expect to be different from last year is innovation around the user interface on devices — new innovative ways in which users can interact with their phone or tablet, such as gesture input. Software is what brings the user's hardware and ecosystem to life, and I expect further enhancements to be made — probably to Windows Phone 8 and other platforms. Last year, there was a lot of talk about new emerging operating systems (OSs) such as Sailfish OS, Firefox OS, Tizen and Ubuntu. I expect there to be new OS announcements this year. Firefox OS is currently ahead of this crowd because vendors, including ZTE and TCL, have already shipped commercial products (during 2013). It is worth noting that these products, marketed at $60, have one of the lowest price points for an entry-level smartphone today.
Q: We expect the battle between Apple and Samsung to continue this year. Are you expecting any consolidation this year? Do you see any vulnerable vendors?
A: While 968 million smartphones were sold in 2013, which represented 53.6 percent of overall mobile phone sales (see http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/2665715), 2013 was a challenging year for those vendors competing mainly at the high end of the smartphone market. This segment is dominated by two vendors and growth is starting to slow down due to saturation. In the lower midtier, the leading vendors are up against new emerging Chinese brands that can undercut their prices with very similar technical specifications. Some vendors, such as HTC and BlackBerry, are entering 2014 in a relatively weak position and we expect them to struggle this year. However, even the market leader Samsung is not out of danger and will need to continue to enhance its user experience in order to increase customer loyalty.