Gadget fans walked away this week from Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the annual geek fest for connected devices, grumbling about a glaring lack of breakthrough products. There were no successors to last year’s wide-screen, HD wonder Samsung (005930) Galaxy Note 10.1, nor did anybody dare push beyond the 41-megapixel barrier broken a year ago by Nokia’s PureView 808 camera phone. And with Apple (AAPL) a no-show (as usual) and Google (GOOG) suspiciously scarce at this year’s event, tablet news was decidedly understated.
Instead the automotive industry, energy sector, and city planning experts attracted some of the biggest crowds on the trade show floors, showing off how mobile technologies could transform creaking energy grids, save inefficient healthcare systems billions, and improve disaster response capabilities in big cities. Dull perhaps, but important.
Here are the three most important things that emerged from Mobile World Congress:
1) Infrastructure tech. Deutsche Telekom (DTE:GR) introduced a new machine-to-machine (or M2M) telematics marketplace. It is asking developers to build out managed software solutions that it can then sell to, say, port operators and power companies. Among the new apps in its marketplace are remote pipeline-monitoring and cargo-tracking software bundles, said Jurgen Hase, vice president of Deutsche Telekom’s M2M Competence Center.
2) Automaker apps. French carmaker Renault (RNO:FP) demonstrated the R-Link app store where its customers can buy apps for the road (think maps, weather updates, and streaming music) for its new in-dash tablet display for select car models to launch later this year. Renault is trying to catch up to higher-end rivals BMW (BMW:GR), Audi (NSU:GR), and Toyota (TM), which have introduced their own proprietary app marketplaces.
3) Handset austerity. The biggest buzz came courtesy of Mozilla, which introduced yet another mobile operating system in an already crowded market. Firefox OS mobiles will run on HTML5, the Web-based language that has yet to catch fire in the development community. The selling point is that Firefox OS phones will be targeted squarely at consumers that cannot afford iPhones or high-end Android phones. The handsets, to be made by China’s ZTE (763:HK) and Huawei, as well as LG (066570:KS) and Alcatel Airtouch (ALU), will launch later this summer in Eastern Europe, South America, and just one EU country, Spain, whose official youth unemployment rate is 55 percent.
Nokia (NOK) also caught the thrift bug—news that won’t cheer shareholders. Among the four handsets Nokia Chief Executive Officer Stephen Elop unveiled in Barcelona are the “105,” carrying a suggested retail price of €15 ($19.60), and the “301,” at $85. Even its smartphone line, Lumia, is priced to move. Two new intros, the Lumia 520 and the Lumia 720, will carry suggested retail prices of about $180 and $325, respectively.