What I’m thinking about in mobile, Feb 2017

This month is a big one for mobile, but we have to wait for the end. That’s because next week is Mobile World Congress, in Barcelona. It’s the biggest mobile event in the world, with about 100,000 people swarming into the city for the week. There are a lot of Android ecosystem developments, and software vendor announcements, and Thought Leadership™ to look forward to.

Here’s what I’m most excited about seeing, in no particular order:

Can’t wait for the Blackberry Lazarus. Yes, in this joke Android is Jesus.

These two brands defined mobile computing until Apple changed the game. It’ll be exciting to see what they can bring to market in style and security now that they’ve had some time to figure it out. Blackberry’s Mercury smartphone pairs a hardware keyboard with Android and Nokia’s first real flagship in forever could similarly draw back a lot of nostalgic fans. If they do, app developers get to learn some new SDKs. Hooray!

Samsung is the market leader in Android, but they really need to stop the bleeding from the Note 7 disaster. Apparently they won’t be launching the new flagship phone at MWC without stating when exactly it will be available which is … not that. They really have to tell a story about their new processors or something if they want to stop people from going out and buying the new devices other vendors will be announcing.

  • Will anyone try to make a compelling watch?

Apple just said that the Apple Watch had its best quarter ever, and Fitbit says their sales are struggling. This would seem to suggest that there’s an opening for Android Wear if people are starting to buy more watches and no-frills trackers fall out of favor, but we haven’t seen any indications that this is a perceived opportunity in the industry. Is this a hobby, an entire product category that only exists for the Apple ecosystem, or is it still too early? Someone could always just copy Apple…

  • VR?

It’s a known issue that standalone VR hardware is super expensive and that the software doesn’t really support the investment. Meanwhile, the hardware made to work with phones is a neat trick but ultimately disappointing. MWC2017 is likely to feature some big VR efforts, and it will be interesting to see whether people can build truly compelling consumer products. This will really define whether brands will want to start making more concerted efforts in VR software development, or if this is still a toy.

  • App SaaS ecosystem updates

While it’s kind of silly to lump all of this into one bucket — the ‘analytics and big data vendors’ list for MWC2017 is 5 pages long —there’s a good reason. It’s always a big part of the show, but it takes some time for what’s announced to actually be available and get implemented. It then takes even longer to find out whether it’s able to move the needle.

There will certainly be some exciting developments, and things to look into more deeply over the next quarter or so, but the nature of software development cycles is such that this format for product announcement is a little less valuable than the hardware stuff. That being said, I’m excited about the evolution in thinking about the two big problems in apps: acquisition and engagement/retention.

I’ll be looking for acquisition vendors to go deeper into engagement, where I can pay for someone who sets up an account and maybe more if they continue to convert. I’ll be looking for engagement/retention vendors to get more sophisticated about showing value, bringing some of the ROI discipline from the acquisition side deeper into the user experience.

MWC2017-Eve Conclusion

As #mobile matures, this show’s character has changed substantially. Everyone knows it’s important now, and the innovations announced are well predicted and understood because nobody can keep the enormous supply chain quiet. There are buckets of money available to software vendors, both VC and from actual customers, and competition is intense but the problem space has been significantly defined. Hopefully this is a net positive for the vendors and the brands who need them.

We’re about to see both new Blackberry and Nokia devices…and that those devices might drop in a headset and provide pretty good VR. What a time to be alive.