MWC 2015 Recap

by David Krebs | 03/10/2015

Although the Mobile World Congress event we just attended in Barcelona is still largely a carrier show – as measured by the audience it attracts and the general lack of attendance by enterprise IT decision-makers – the roster of vendors on display is remarkable. VDC spent three agenda-packed days at the show meeting with a variety of enterprise mobility and IoT-focused solution providers. Some of our team’s observations are summarized below:

Samsung Galaxy S6: Back to Basics? Our week kicked off on Sunday evening with the Samsung Unpacked Event and the anticipated unveiling of the Galaxy S6. First things first – the device is absolutely stunning. Beautiful build quality with a gorgeous display, including the unique Edge option. However, the unveiling of the device felt flat. Clearly we are spoiled today with the expanding capabilities of smartphones; thus, the bar is set extremely high for each device with all of the upgrades needed for it to be considered a success. Moreover, today it is much more than device features that make a launch compelling; rather, what’s important is how those features enable use cases. However, with Samsung’s focus on features and specs, the company missed a real opportunity to translate these capabilities into meaningful value for everyday – or new – applications.

This was especially evident with the introduction of Samsung Pay, which leverages NFC for tap-to-pay in addition to the integration of technology Samsung recently acquired from LoopPay (Magnetic Secure Transmission) which enables the devices to be used with magnetic stripe readers. This is truly differentiated in that it enables the Galaxy S6 to be used as a mobile wallet at approximately 90% of merchants or 30 million payment terminals worldwide. Although this technology conceivably fills a temporary gap while retailers in the US rush to meet the end-of-year mandate to support chip and pin requirements, magnetic strip readers are not disappearing from the retail landscape anytime soon. Thus, with payment infrastructure access meaning everything when it comes to mobile payment acceptance, Samsung has a strong competitive advantage with this technology, especially over arch-rival Apple. Too bad they spent all of 30 seconds covering it during the unveiling.  

Coming off an extremely challenging 2014 with slowing shipments and massive profit erosion, much is riding on this release. It is widely known that Samsung’s leading smartphone position is being challenged by Chinese upstarts on the low end, and with the iPhone 6 Apple now has an answer to Samsung’s larger display differentiation. In this context, it was perhaps important for Samsung to “revert to the basics,” focusing on device functionality and features and the “language of engineering” they have mastered. However, the decision to enclose the battery and remove the microSD card will be seen as a significant departure for many and will eliminate some much-needed differentiation, especially against Apple. 

Wearables and the Smartwatch Use Case Conundrum. On the wearable front, both LG and Huawei made headlines with the introduction of their respective smartwatches. This represents Huawei’s first foray into the wearable market, and rather than take the low-cost approach for its smartphones, the Chinese manufacturer has opted for a more fashion-forward device that runs on Android Wear and boasts the most impressive smartwatch display. However, LG’s upcoming Urbane seeks to push the boundaries a bit further by being the first offer a 4G LTE-enabled watch that also features NFC capabilities. Another unique attribute is its interface, which – based on recently acquired WebOS – is markedly more intuitive than Android Wear alternatives. Moreover, Google’s Wear platform does not currently support cellular connectivity. While these smartwatches are essentially consumer devices, enterprise opportunities are beginning to emerge, especially around notification and alerts for line workers. However, enterprises will need to be prepared to “manage” these types of devices as their employees bring them to work and look to connect them to corporate networks. In discussions with EMM vendors, who are increasingly extending support to wearable end points, an interesting use case emerged that leveraged the smartwatch to support two-factor authentication. Ultimately this category – especially from an enterprise perspective – remains very much a work in process. Even with Apple’s pending smartwatch (available this April) today’s products still lack in overall functionality – particularly battery life – and meaningful use cases to justify their expense.

Samsung KNOX: Dead or Alive? The exclusion of Samsung’s KNOX platform from Google’s Android for Work was, for many, the death knell for KNOX. The message we got from Samsung and its partners at MWC contradicted this scenario and pointed to the progress Samsung has made over the past year. Although the volume surrounding KNOX turned down significantly in comparison to the fanfare at MWC a year earlier, it is becoming more clear where KNOX fits. Ultimately we do not see KNOX and KNOX Workspace as a volume play across most of the enterprise or government organizations. That would be too limiting in today’s multi-platform/multi-vendor reality with Android for Work representing the more viable option in that scenario. However, in highly secure/regulated environments (government, financial services, etc.) we do see a real play for KNOX. Whether that is too limited given Samsung’s investment in KNOX remains to be seen. Other KNOX developments include the collaboration with Microsoft and the integration of OneDrive, OneNote, and Office 365 with KNOX Workspace. Although smartphone end users dislike the amount of pre-loaded software they receive on their devices, this one makes sense and is in direct response to the availability of Google’s productivity apps on its Android for Work platform.

Wireless Charging: Ready for Prime Time? Another bet placed by Samsung with its Galaxy S6 is around wireless charging. While this feature has been available as an aftermarket capability for previous devices, it will come fully integrated with the S6. What is perhaps most unique about Samsung’s approach is that it integrates two of today’s more common wireless charging standards: WPC’s Qi and PMA. While Samsung is making a bold bet by integrating this functionality, the technology from a performance perspective is impractical and not ready for prime time. Challenges with charging speed and charging range (relative to mat placement) remain real concerns. An interesting development from our perspective is the shift from today’s magnetic induction technology to solutions leveraging magnetic resonance. The Alliance for Wireless Power (A4WP), which recently announced its intent to merge with PMA, is introducing Rezence, which addresses many of these issues, supporting a superior charging range and multi-device charging. Although still in the specification stage, support from Qualcomm, Intel, Samsung, and others will make this a very interesting technology to follow. Is 2015 the year of wireless charging? In our opinion, no. However, significant strides are being made.

IBM & Apple: 3% closer to home! IBM and Apple announced the “next three” IBM MobileFirst for iOS Apps at MWC, bringing its total to 14 against the stated goal of 100 by the end of 2015. At the end of the day the numbers are somewhat meaningless, especially considering the number of mobile apps already developed by many of IBM’s closest competitors. However, as this is their stated goal, it is something they will inevitably be reminded of. What struck us as especially compelling was not so much the apps themselves – many of these are IBM versions of mobile apps that have already been created. Rather, it was how Kathryn White, IBM VP of Marketing and Head of Sales for the Apple partnership, conveyed the process through which they identified mobile use cases. Starting with an acute industry pain point – for example, the $20 million airlines lose each year by improperly calculating excess fuel requirements – IBM’s approach is to focus on analytics, identify a feature that “changes the moment” and ultimately develop and app that empowers the employee to make meaningful decisions. This a low-risk win for Apple with no real skin in the game on application development and access to IBM’s enterprise channel, which – especially for the lagging iPad – could provide a nice boost. Among the potential issues we are tracking is the ability of the IBM sales force to effectively “sell” enterprise mobility solutions (we are seeing similar sales cycle issues with Oracle and SAP). In addition, the critical aspect of professional support services for enterprise customers surrounding the mobile device (provisioning, depot services, advanced exchange, maintenance, white glove, etc.) represents a potential gap or vulnerability to the existing model.

The Windows 10 Wedge. That Microsoft or its Windows platform is on the outside looking in when it comes to enterprise mobility should come as no big surprise. That said, Windows remains extremely critical for enterprises, especially in the more traditional PC, server, and embedded endpoint domains. One of the more interesting questions will be the extent to which Windows 10 changes Microsoft’s fortunes, especially considering mobile devices. Today’s Windows smartphone marketshare is negligible at less than 5% globally. However, and especially in markets that lack strong BYOD momentum (i.e. outside the US), the recent trends have been encouraging. Surprisingly where Microsoft has done especially well in the enterprise is in the lower-end tier of the smartphone market with its lower-cost Lumina devices. With the launch of Windows 10, Microsoft is undergoing a rebranding effort, emphasizing a singular platform/store/Microsoft experience. While Microsoft does not have an answer today for more BYOD-centric environments, we do see an opportunity for Microsoft to take advantage of the continued enterprise uncertainty surrounding Android and wedge itself more firmly back into the enterprise mobility discussion. 

View the 2017 Enterprise Mobility & Connected Devices Research Outline to learn more.


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