Like a lot of trade journalists getting ready for next week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, I’ve been speaking with various industry analysts and executives, querying them about what they expect at the big extravaganza.
Of course, there will be a million and one things going on next week, and it will be a challenge covering everything (although we’re going to give it our best shot – be sure to check www.wirelessweek.com for our coverage). One area of interest to me is what investors are going to be looking for. Last year saw the debut of App Planet, and this year’s app exhibit promises to be even bigger. At last year’s show, I was told some of the developers featured in the exhibit didn’t even have hotel rooms – they slept somewhere amongst the exhibit area, finding a couch or some such semi-comfortable chair in the lounge area. I didn’t talk to any of these said developers but it sounds believable if indeed they are a true “garage developer” trying to make the world a better place.
In a conversation yesterday with a couple of experts who will be on a panel next Wednesday, “Strategies for Growth: Innovation, Investment & Return,” I heard just how important these developers are to not only investors, but big companies that need their expertise in a world that changes so fast, nobody has time to blink. Because one of these experts is based mostly in Europe and the other in Silicon Valley, I decided to bring up this age-old topic: What’s the current situation with wireless innovation, Euro-centric or U.S.-centric? For so long, Europe drove the mobile industry and the United States lagged; nowadays, U.S. networks are upgrading fast and furiously, and it seems Silicon Valley is driving everything.
Robert Marcus is chairman and CEO of QuantumWave Capital, a mobile Internet-focused investment banking firm with headquarters in Paris and offices in New York, Palo Alto and Tel Aviv. A former Microsoft executive who for a while served as a director on Microsoft’s M&A team, he’s traveled between the States and Europe long enough to detect subtle nuances between the two regions.
In terms of innovation, he said there’s a massive amount going on in Western Europe and Israel, in part due to the mobile industry’s deep history. These entrepreneurs tend to stay regional and smaller in nature, although equally innovative. In Silicon Valley, besides zillions of startups, you’ve got the Internet heavyweights with Apple and Google, and they’ve got massive amounts of cash on hand to make acquisitions because, as big as they are, it’s difficult to be everywhere they need to be.
With this as the backdrop, Rob Coneybeer, managing director Silicon Valley-based Shasta Ventures venture capital firm, said it’s difficult to overstate the ongoing and future impact of Apple and Google on the mobile industry, one that he describes as just the opening act of a multi-act play.
Outside of Silicon Valley, “I don’t think people fully appreciate that,” he said. “What’s going on is a lot deeper than a lot of people realize.” Yes, Coneybeer knows how to get a journalist’s attention, but he’s got a point. Guilty as charged. I’m sure I denied their influence for a long time before seeing the writing on the wall. Today, these two are driving the mobile industry faster and more aggressively than anyone else in recent memory.
Flash forward to today, and it looks like the heavyweights in mobile are getting the message, if they didn’t already. (Motorola jumped on Android fairly early on, so I don’t think you can accuse them of being late to the party, at least not in a “pick-an-OS-and-get-on-with-it sense.”)
I didn’t see the news about Nokia’s leaked memo until this morning, because for at least a fair amount of time last night, I experienced a hiccup in the requisite MWC planning and could not for the life of me find the document confirming my hotel reservation. For a while there, I tried to imagine how I was going to cover the events and make it to meetings if I had to camp out on a street somewhere. (By the way, if you tried to access the official hotel list for MWC last night, it would have popped up with only two last-minute possibilities, including one that had a room going for $11,000 U.S. a night. Hahahahaha. Truth.) Fortunately, case solved and that nightmare was put to rest. Whew.
Now assuming the “burning memo” is legitimate and came from Nokia CEO Stephen Elop, formerly with Microsoft, it’s the strongest wording yet from the company in its attempt to explain what it’s going through. It’s devoid of corporate-ease and to the point. It’s risky to read anything into it, but when put together with that tweet reportedly from Google executive Vic Gundotra saying: “Two turkeys do not make an Eagle” – well, it would seem that the most likely scenario is a Nokia/Microsoft hook-up in some form or another. But who knows? Maybe there’s room for Android in Nokia somehow. I just think Nokia would have to really, really put a new spin on Android, something no other device designer has been able to do, and it would have to top everything, or most everything, that HP announced around webOS today. Now does that mean two wrongs make a right? No, but something gigantic and game-changing has got to pop for both Nokia and Microsoft.
We’ll find out what Nokia has up its sleeve at that investor conference on Friday, Feb. 11, and in the meantime, we can speculate all we want about how Nokia is going to narrow this chasm between Espoo, Finland, and Silicon Valley, or maybe it will be closer to Redmond, Wash.
Now, I’ve got to see where I stashed that airline confirmation… Just kidding. See you next week in Barcelona!