My head hurts!I’ll admit right up front – I’m not a telecoms guy. I understand some of the basics, but decided that I was going to explore the exhibits at Mobile World Congress and learn. Over the last two days, I walked the exhibit halls, talked to several equipment manufacturers, integrators, operators, user interface and application suppliers. Did I mention my head hurts? Though I can appreciate the complexity of wireless network management, backhaul and finding profitability in this fast paced industry and I can appreciate the simplicity of IP based service delivery, IMS and “Style with Soul” as Samsung would tell you. But at the end of the day, it all comes down to user experience. The buzz word around Mobile World Congress 2008 is convergence – a trend where some technologies having distinct functionalities evolve to technologies that overlap, i.e. multiple products come together to form one product, with the advantages of each individual component. Though the term has been around for several years in the telecoms industry, some believe, as BT said in the show daily, 2008 will officially be the year that convergence comes of age. With mobile technology convergence, we are looking for applications and services like IM, SMS, MMS, voice and video telephony (both fixed and mobile), community apps, on-net contact list, internet TV and RSS feeds, voice and video mail, file management, music player, and video streaming to work together in an intuitive, consistent user interface on mobile devices like laptops, handhelds and embedded devices in my vehicles. Blackberry’s booth featured over 20 ISVs touting a “Whole World of Applications”. I may not be giving them enough credit, but what I saw are mostly singular apps bundled together, usually with little to no integration (other than Blackberry’s own PIM apps). And they weren’t the only ones. I believe convergence heavily depends on the device operating system. Microsoft is in a great position to offer convergence – they have solutions for the back office, the computing client, the mobile device as well as embedded apps. A complete Microsoft solution is a good example of convergence not just in a single device, but across various device types. Their solution has many of the services I listed above on my laptop, my cell phone and embedded in my home automation system or the in-vehicle entertainment device. The interface, and therefore, the user experience is easy and consistent. On the downside, they rely heavily on their own suite of products (like Office, Exchange, and Windows Live). I understand this is why they are achieving the tight integration, but I also believe there are better applications out there for these services. Google’s Android platform, along with the Open Handset Alliance, will be in a great position to deliver on this convergence as long as the user experience / user interface doesn’t get fragmented. I wasn’t able to talk with reps from Google as they are in Barcelona for press and meetings only and have no booth in the exhibit hall. I applaud their efforts at working for an open solution, but my fear is that if they are only focused on the handset experience, will they be able to influence other parts of the ecosystem that are necessary to deliver the truly converged experience. Will my experience as a user be consistent across all applications and services, much less across all mobile devices, or will I have to tolerate a different experience on each, as I do today? Is Google’s Android going to be a true break through, or only a small step?
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