Not a lot was announced at MWC, but the battle for third place in smartphones has been set perfectly, says Steve McCaskill
The mobile world descended on Barcelona last week for the annual Mobile World Congress (MWC) at the Gran Fira Via on the outskirts of the city. The event has never been bigger, with more than 72,000 people attending over the course of four days, but there were precious few smartphone announcements to be had.
Apple has traditionally opted not to present at the show, but even those who were there had little new to say. Samsung had one of the largest stands in any of the eight halls, but has elected to wait until 14 March before revealing the highly-anticipated Samsung Galaxy S4 to the world.
MWC 2013 was more about showing off existing and recently-announced phones ahead of what is shaping up to be an intriguing year for mobile, especially the battle for third place in the global smartphone market.
While Apple and Samsung command more than half of all smartphone sales and their duopoly is unlikely to be challenged any time soon, a number of companies have recently been in the bronze medal position.
Competition has arguably never been as fierce and the current incumbent Huawei faces a real challenge to maintain its place. The Chinese manufacturer used the show to reveal the Huawei Ascend P2, while its compatriots at ZTE showed off the Grand Memo S phablet and the Firefox OS-based ZTE Open.
The two companies were among a handful to make major product announcements as part of their respective quests for third, but both will have to fend off a wounded HTC, a resurgent Sony and a recovering Nokia and BlackBerry if they are to fulfil those ambitions.
They will also have wrestle with the fact that they are not household names, despite the success of HTC in cracking the market. Till recently, the Taiwanese company has appeared to be a blueprint to follow, but it has seen its profits slump by over 90 percent and has struggled to keep up with Apple and Samsung. Its hopes for the immediate future rest with the HTC One, a high end smartphone that was announced a week prior to MWC.
Sony also made its big announcement before the show, revealing the Sony Xperia Z in January. The Japanese firm has enjoyed an encouraging year, having bought out Ericsson’s stake in the Sony Ericsson joint venture, and told TechWeekEurope that it was confident of achieving third spot in the near future.
Three’s a crowd?
HTC and Sony’s challenge is to prove that their devices are genuine Android alternatives to Samsung, an arguably easier task than Nokia and BlackBerry. Their flagship devices have been well-received, but they have to convince consumers and businesses to adopt a different operating system if they want commercial success.
Huawei and ZTE will be confident of continuing their push towards smartphone supremacy in 2013, but strong offerings from fallen giants mean that the old guard could continue to dominate the market. “I think a lot of folks want us to win,” Sony told us, but the same could be true of BlackBerry and Nokia, which still command a great deal of brand loyalty.
Apple and Samsung may be so far ahead that catching them, at least in the short-term, seems unrealistic, but the rest of the pack feel as though they have a major opportunity to turn the ‘big two’ into a ‘big three’.
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