MONDAY sees the start of Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, Spain. It is the world’s largest trade fair devoted to mobile devices — and probably the single biggest day of the year for setting out the future of personal technology.
In the space of two hours, almost a half-dozen major cellphone brands will unveil their latest devices or latest strategies for maintaining, regaining or capturing market share in one of the world’s most competitive and visible business sectors.
Sony Mobile Communications (SMC) will kick off with a press conference that is expected to show whether it can pick up where its predecessor, Sony Ericsson, left off almost a decade ago.
Back then, the P900 was a revolutionary smartphone that put the brand so far ahead of the competition it was hard to imagine it vanishing from the leadership rungs. But vanish it has.
This year will be critical — its first full year as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Sony, having bought out Ericsson’s 50% stake 12 months ago.
Kuni Suzuki, president and CEO of SMC, is expected to show that the reinvention goes beyond the brand. The flagship Xperia Z phone, with its market-leading five-inch screen and unprecedented camera quality, will no doubt take centre stage.
However, the device is no secret. It was unveiled at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in January. It is what joins the Z1 in the lineup, and how Sony can tackle the entire range of consumer segments from the low end up, that will provide the clues to the brand’s survival.
At about the same time, another iconic brand that has fallen on hard times will attempt to regain some lustre. Nokia all but owned the global market before the rise of Apple. Its rebirth last year, after CEO Stephen Elop declared that its platform was “burning”, failed to set the market alight. And its mid-level Asha phones and high-end Lumia phones, running the Microsoft Windows Phone operating system, have made little impact.
Both of these ranges are expected to be given a major refresh and expectations are that Nokia will incorporate its Pureview Camera technology into the Lumia range. Last year’s unveiling of this technology, with a 41-megapixel camera on a phone, was one of the most talked-about moments of the 2012 MWC.
However, camera technology will take a back seat if Nokia announces its first tablet computer. Elop acknowledged during a visit to South Africa a year ago that such a device was likely and that the MWC would be the ideal time to announce it.
The current world leader in cellphone sales, Samsung, is unlikely to release a major new phone at MWC, as it is expected to announce its next flagship phone, the Galaxy S4, at its own event on March 14.
Nevertheless, it will host a media session on phones and tablets shortly after the Sony and Nokia events.
Apple will, as at all major trade events, be conspicuous by its absence, but will continue to cast a long shadow with its “i” brands. Manufacturers of phone accessories will all try to “out-i” each other at the congress.
• Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee.
* This article was first published in Sunday Times: Business Times