VC Money for Mobile, Windows Phone 7 Series Launch, and More! A Roundup of Highlights from Mobile World Congress 2010 Days 1 & 2

February 16, 2010 by Lisa Oshima | Advertising, Consulting, Developers, Mobile, Monetization, Social Media

As day 2 of Mobile World Congress rounds to a close, and day 3 begins (ahem – it’s nearly 3am), I thought I’d point out a few highlights from Mobile World Congress so far:

Pre-MWC: I started the pre-MWC whirlwind with The NAVTEQ awards party, in which the EMEA winners of the Global LBS Challenge were announced.  It was a good event.  A handful of promising companies showcased their LBS-enhanced mobile products.  From there, I went to MobileSunday, which was, as usual packed with a great crowd of mobile enthusiasts bracing for the week ahead.  After that, I hit the town with the team from Skyhook Wireless (whose wi-fi location-based technology is embedded in the iPhone and millions of others worldwide) and a few of their 3rd party developer partners – all of whom are working on things that would set any mobile enthusiast’s heart racing… I’d tell you more, but that’d be like ruining a good surprise, and that’s no fun.

Day 1: I kicked off Monday by moderating a couple of panels in the “Mobile Applications – Innovation Vs Fragmentation” stream.  The first was “Attracting investment to the apps market – Identifying the key success factors,” and the panelists were fantastic:

Thanks to Rich, Bob and David, we had a honest and productive conversation about the state of the mobile start-up ecosystem.  The general consensus was that while 2009 was a difficult year for many technology start-ups (with the National Venture Capital Association in the US saying that in 2008, venture capital funding in the telecommunications sector declined to just $558.7 million, down more than double from $1.67 billion in 2008), the future is looking bright for the mobile developer community. All three VCs were bullish on investments for both “picks and shovels” mobile start-ups (i.e. those that provide developer tools and software that supports the mobile application development and distribution ecosystem) and mobile app developers.

Rich, Bob, and David all pointed out that VC investment isn’t right for all mobile start-ups. Many mobile start-ups- especially small mobile application shops that don’t envision growing to become worth hundreds of millions of dollars are usually better off bootstrapping or taking small investments from friends, family, and angels.  However, for app developers that have the potential to grow and evolve – becoming much more than a one hit wonder while driving very strong and consistent long term revenues, VC funding makes sense. One app developer company that’s done particularly well according to the panelists is Tapulous (one of Weiden’s investments through Khosla), which makes social apps for iPhone like Tap Tap Revenge.  Other ‘success stories’ mentioned in the panel were AdMob, the ad network which was recently acquired by Google, and GetJar, which is the world’s largest cross platform mobile application store.

Aside from discussing mobile application developers, the panelists also weighed in on some of the relevant mobile topics of the moment.  In particular, the consensus was that the chances of the recently announced Wholesale Application Community, which we jokingly and universally now refer to as “WAC”, working are slim at best.  And, Rich mentioned that he’s not particularly optimistic (in fact the contrary) about the prospects for Samsung’s new Bada OS.  (Having not seen Bada in action yet, I’m reserving judgment, but I’m unconvinced at this point that the world needs another OS… According the rumor mill, Bada looks “okay”. One person even told me it’s “kind of neat”… Frankly, none of the feedback I’ve gotten so far has been positive enough that I’d felt compelled to re-arrange my schedule to see it…. Maybe I’ll see it tomorrow.)

The second panel I moderated also yielded good food for thought.  It was on “Unlocking application revenue – billing and payments”.  The panelists included:

  • Tyler Lessard, Vice President of Global Alliances & Developer Relations, RIM
  • Yves Tyrode, Executive Vice President, Technocentre, Orange
  • Gerard Grech from  Nokia
  • Eric Duprat, General Manager, Mobile, PayPal

We discussed the complexity of the in-app mobile billing and payments ecosystem, the potential for positive uptake and change, the relevance of virtual goods and currencies, among other things.  While we covered a wide range of topics within the mobile billing and payments realm, unlike the mobile investment panel, I left the billing and payments panel with more questions than answers.  In app billing and payment seems just a bit too new to have yielded any major success stories from mobile app developers (if you’ve got any to share- I’d love to hear them).

Gerard agreed with me that Flirtomatic appears to be a good case study in the use of viral optimization and the use of virtual goods and currency within mobile apps, but aside from Flirtomatic, the panelists couldn’t think of any other major companies that have excelled in a similar way.  Eric from Paypal mentioned that Shutterfly is using both Paypal’s web and mobile API.  Aside from these very limited examples, consensus was that there don’t seem to be a lot of companies that are publicizing their ability to drive revenue through in-app billing and payments.

After moderating panels on Monday, I spent the rest of my day in meetings, and there were some productive ones… I’ll skip the really juicy bits for which I’m sworn to secrecy (except to say that among many other things, I’m really looking forward to trying MePlease when it launches) and instead mention just a few of the highlights…

Microsoft announced it’s new mobile operating system, Windows Phone 7 Series.  I got my hands on a forthcoming device, which looks – and I’m not exaggerating – awesome. It was in a beta build, but it was a lightning fast, feature rich (especially with social networking and photo features), responsive touch-screen device with a 5 megapicsel camera, and if this build is anything to will hopefully be worth the wait. Windows is definitely trying to bring sexy back, and so far, it’s working.

Qualcomm’s chip group wants to see developers take advantage of some of it’s most powerful capabilities like enhanced 3D gaming graphics and gesturing capabilities. Expect to hear more from them in the coming months, and come meet Liat, who is leading these efforts in the developer community at Thursday’s WIP Jam at MWC (she’ll be presenting with me and Patric from Idevio in the session on what makes addictive applications).

I also met up with my old friends from the now newly re-independent Astraware (which spun back off from Handmark), and they’ve got some fun new mobile games stuff up their sleeves… Well worth checking them out if you’re looking for some good entertainment on your device.

I also saw an early prototype version of a new ruggedized, waterproof, interactive tablet device that runs HTML5 with an e-reader-like screen from Visionect, which could prove to be an interesting device for the hospitality industry if it takes off when it launches. The idea is that restaurants, hotels, etc. and other businesses will develop apps in HTML 5 which can be rendered on this durable tablet device and used for field force automation efforts (order taking, employee checklists, etc.).  Apparently, you can drop it frequently, put it in the dishwasher, and forget to charge it for 9 months, and it’ll still work. If true, it sounds like it’ll be worth checking out when it’s live (date TBA).

As for today, it was a day full of meetings, checking out the new Motorola Phones, going to the Women in Mobile Devices lunch, attending the GoMo News Blender event, and having dinner with great folks courtesy of one of mobile’s most innovative VCs.  Oh, and there was also Eric Schmidt’s keynote… Google’s CEO, Schmidt talked about the future of mobile, which looks bright. In three years or less, Schmidt expects mobile devices to outsell PCs. There’s a great summary of his keynote here. It was good to see Google making an appearance at Mobile World Congress.

There’s so much more that I learned over the last two days that I’d love to be able to tell you about, but again, good secrets are worth keeping… and I’ve got to be up again in less than 5 hours for another day of excitement.  With that, I’ll close by saying that for those of you who are sitting at home or in your cubicle wondering whether it’ll be worth making the trip to Mobile World Congress in 2011, the answer is yes.  There’s a lot going on in mobile, and it’s only getting better.

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