A view of Mobile World Congress 2012

Back in 2009, I visited the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona for the first time. I was then a digital media consultant trying to get an understanding of how advertising on mobile was progressing. The spring sun was shining as ever and Barcelona seemed a hub of activity.

I was frankly overwhelmed by the size of the event, over 50,000 people and a lot of dark suited men (more like ‘Men in Black’ than mobile). But 2009 was early days for advertising on mobile and I attended a rather chaotic conference panel, which broadly discussed the challenges of getting brands to engage. Rather oddly then, I remember companies like Nokia promoting their mobile offering to advertisers and only a few other ad focussed companies existed, Google were not a significant force in 2009 (Android was only on a few handsets then). Equally the event was before Apple released the 3GS and the iPad was not even a rumour.

Little did I realise at the time that the next three years were going to see so much upheaval with the rise of smartphones and the change in the landscape brought in by a few disruptive companies. Equally none of us at the congress would have contemplated the rise in new companies in mobile driven by consumers changing relationship with their handsets.

So, it was with interest and trepidation that I arrived in Barcelona last week in 2012, contemplating what will change in the next three years.

The sun was shining again this year, over 70,000 people attended, and what a different event it was. There are still the suits, mainly from the hardware fraternity, but so much other stuff and a confidence that mobile devices are intrinsically linked to changing consumer behaviour. This time too the ad community was there in force and there was a lot to discuss.

So three years on what has changed?

Operating Systems

There are now many more mobile operating systems than existed in my first visit . Android seemed to be the most high profile this year and on of the strength of its presence it is now a key part of the ecosystem. The stand was one of the largest and had a huge variety of partners, demonstrations and simple fun. Google Wallet was demonstrated and it seemed slick and intuitive. There were all of Google’s mobile ad formats, as well as game developers, apps companies like Shazam and key hardware suppliers. The stand was so packed with products and people that Google Search had only a small presence. It all seemed very collaborative.

Microsoft’s Windows was there in force too giving hope to Nokia via the new Lumia range. Blackberry were somewhat less out there with a relatively modest stand which looked uninviting and not too busy. Many were wondering what they will do in the next year. All we can think is watch-this-space, three years is a long time in mobile.


So without Apple at the event, it seems strange to talk devices, but Apple’s influence is everywhere. Tablets were all over the show in all sizes and styles and in 2009 there were none. Some had fantastic screens, and the difference between what is defined as a phone and what is a tablet is now becoming one purely of size. I chatted with Brad Rees of Mediacells (a company that monitors handset capability), and we agreed that some of the new quad core (4 processors) phones are incredibly quick and are likely to be offered for free on contract which further open up smartphones to all.

Will this change consumer behaviour further too? We think so but to what extent we shall see.

A device I was not convinced by was the 3D phones – whilst the experience was ok, I am not sure I want to use 3D glasses at the same time as using a phone.  According to one of my OMD team, Mark Kermode the film critic thinks 3D is a fad that will disappear, I would tend to agree with him

Nokia were promoting their new Lumia range – a phone I am testing currently – a smart phone they hope will rival the handsets of many others in the market. The stand was huge and was interrupted every so often with a blast of music followed by a dance routine from all on the stand. It felt odd and reminded me how one giant business like Nokia has been knocked by the smart phone revolution. Nokia and Microsoft have a lot riding on these new phones, next year’s show will tell us all how it is going.

Other notable points to make about devices, was the dominance at the show of Far Eastern and Chinese companies. Samsung and LG but also Huawei, HTC and others. The market opportunity for smartphones in that region from India to China is huge and these companies are preparing for that battle. When Eric Schmidt from Google was asked about smartphones there was talk of a $100 phone and when he though that would happen – his comment was next year. Mobile will penetrate markets the pc has had little impact in.


While advertising has progressed rapidly in three years, there has been a mismatch between a lack of quality audience sites and ad spend. Equally there has been a paucity of engaging ad formats. It looks like this is all changing.

Facebook’s decision during the week to allow ad ads in mobile versions of their site is a welcome boost…if there is one area that will drive mobile advertising in 2012, it is linking it to the social web. Twitter and LinkedIn have also followed suit so this area is encouraging. It does look like the major publishers are taking mobile more seriously too as user volumes increase.

As for engaging ad formats, this was the talk of the event in the ad circles. New rich media platforms like Celtra and Sprout are offering brand experiences that we are more used on the web and will no doubt encourage brand spend to go mobile. No longer is your only display option a banner on Angry Birds, that must be a good thing.

So 2016, who knows, but one thing I am sure about is we will not be worrying about the year of mobile, that has happened and we are now in a phase of growth few of us will be able to ignore.


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