I mean Mobile World Congress 2011 in Barcelona, which I’m just back from.
Oh. My. God. I’ve never seen anything like it. Four days, 49,000 mobile-biz people, a city where you start your after-dinner drinks ’round midnight. The Android presence was said by all to have been a marketing triumph, but I’m still not sure what that means. I met a couple of my heroes.
Here’s a photo of (part of) the booth at opening time on Day One, before anything started happening.
And here are two more taken during the belly of the show; wall-to-wall madness.
Several marketing people were at pains to compliment me on our efforts, which included:
The booth had two levels and a slide connecting them. Hundreds and hundreds slid down with glee, after which they could pick up a picture of their arrival at the bottom.
A very large number of bugdroid pins, in 86 different styles, were handed out to the receptionists at booths around the show. Some were held back. Artificial scarcity set in, and everyone from SIP geeks to booth bunnies to dignified silver-haired well-suited Chinese businesspeople were observed taking extreme measures to fill the holes in their collection.
There was this huge smoothie bar, staffed by a gang of mostly-Aussie professional bartenders, who yukked it up, flirted outrageously, and created a pin-traders’ Mecca.
There were 50 or so visually-compelling Android apps on display in an arc along the edge of the booth. Some were manned by little startups who’d only been able to send a couple of employees. Since the show ran ten hours for three days and seven hours on the fourth and it was never not crowded, I don’t know how they made it through. They’ll probably be OK in a couple of weeks.
There was a sushi-boat style display of the currently 170-or-so compatible Android devices shipping in 96 different countries.
What Does It All Mean? · So, at one of the many parties, I was hearing the “what a marketing home run” speech from a senior business guy, and something snapped. I asked “What observable effect are we hoping for? How are we to decide whether or not this was worth having done?” He said “The fact that you’re asking that shows that you’re an engineer, which means that you’ll never understand. It’ll take a year and a half to see the results, but it was pure genius.” Um, well, OK.
Then he said “Well, and any telecom exec who walks by and sees what’s going on will be more comfortable doing big Android deals, because they’ve seen that you’re a player.”
Barcelona · It was cold and wet and rainy and windy, but still, the city took it like a champ; the subways didn’t buckle under the stress, and you could always be confident of finding a decent joint for tapas and drinks without walking too far.
The food was mostly good (occasionally superb) and the hospitality was cheerful, unaffected, and efficient. The city is beautiful to walk around in and I got a ton of nice pictures. Prices were very reasonable by world standards.
Neelie · I was doing one of my booth-duty turns when our co-ordinator walked up and said “There’s someone here who’d like a demo.” This was a very well-dressed older lady with a posse including one obvious security guy. She said “I’m Neelie Kroes” and I gasped. Ms Kroes is the EU’s European Commissioner for Digital Agenda; a former litigant against deserving defendents notably including Microsoft, and really smart. I gave her the Honeycomb/tablet demo; she pretty quickly ascertained that she was talking to an Actual Internet Person and said “May I ask you some questions?” The Google PR people were looking nervous, but how could one say no?
It went like this:
Q: What do you think I should be worrying about? (A: Net Neutrality, or there won’t be any startups keeping the Internet interesting.)
Q: What are the implications when Internet traffic is dominated by video?
Q: What do we do about protection of children in online life?
Q: Should we be worried about cyberwarfare?
I don’t remember the answers in sufficient detail to reproduce them here.
Jon · I mean Jon Lech Johansen, better known as DVD Jon. His company is doubleTwist, currently my favorite music tool in the whole world that isn’t cloud-centric. Google is well-known to think it’s a good idea for everything to be in the cloud, and I agree, but lots of stuff just isn’t; for example the huge collection of music encoded in Apple lossless on a computer in my living room.
doubleTwist lets you sync this stuff, and movies in any format you can imagine, to your Android devices wirelessly, taking care of any required format conversions, then lets you play that music on XBoxes and Playstations, plus it’ll reverse-sync the photos and videos you take with your phone back to your household computers.
So we had a nice long talk with Jon and a couple of other doubleTwisters; we like to keep in touch with particularly-groovy Android developers and had kind of let that slip with doubleTwist.
Which, I gather, is the real point of MWC; it’s not the booths and the schwag and the shiny toys and the eating and drinking, it’s the meetings you can have, because everybody’s there.
The Software and Hardware · Honeycomb AKA Android 3.0, running on various tablets, was the star of the show. On Monday morning the only such beast known to exist was the Motorola Xoom, which we had tons of in the booth. By Wednesday, the big-dog handset makers had announced a whole bunch more tablets. I have no useful opinion of these things because neither I nor anyone else in the world has spent extended quality time with more than one of them. The one can’t-miss observation is that Samsung’s new Galaxy Tab 10.1 is remarkably light, compared to the Xoom, which weighs about the same as an iPad. Cool, but we’ll have to see if they sacrificed anything to pull that off.
Anyhow, I’m now one of the world’s most accomplished Honeycomb demoers, and I’ve been dogfooding a Xoom for a while now, but I think we’re not supposed to go into details about it until it actually ships, and I don’t know which of the many rumors on the date we’re supposed to believe.
Everyone wanted to talk about Nokia/Microsoft, and everyone either respects or fears Apple — whom I note don’t see the need for an MWC presence. Me, I’m nowhere near brave enough to prognosticate what’s going to happen in this business more than about three weeks out.
People · The mix was remarkable, with the density of suit-wearers around 50%. Also, they were from round the world; I was watching #MWC on Twitter, and it was in more languages than I’ve ever seen in a single tweetstream.
In the booth, I talked to business-development people and noise-cancellation experts and bankers and semiconductor makers and, you name it.
It was kind of old-school; certain large manufacturers I won’t name filled their booths with miniskirted bimbos, most of whom apparently became avid Android button traders.
And What Does It All Mean? · Haven’t the foggiest. Let me recall a couple of Nineties cliches though: Markets are Conversations, and bazaars are more interesting than cathedrals.
Well, except maybe for Barcelona’s own Sagrada Familia, perhaps the most astounding building I have ever seen.