The Parallel History of the Smartphone & Mobile World Congress

Feb 3, 2016
Blakely Thomas-Aguilar


Blakely is a content strategist for VMware by day, sci-fi/fantasy book-aholic (and mom of 3!) by night.

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by Gregory Lehrer, senior director of technology alliances, VMware End-user Computing

Once upon a time in the smartphone world, there were two major operating systems that dominated the market.

End users from the consumer or the corporate world were quickly adopting these devices for personal use, email and/or business needs. These two players seemed to rule that part of the industry. Adoption for one of these devices was viral, thanks to its popularity among high-profile celebrities and corporate VIPs.

There were other players, of course, but their market share was marginal, so these two companies running these two OS’ were planning for world domination over the next few years, surfing on massive device adoption.

While everyone could believe this is a depiction of 2016’s mobile industry and the two players described being Apple and Android, this was not the case in the earliest days of the smartphone.

Indeed, the year described is 2006, not 2016, and the players are not Google and Apple, but Microsoft with its Windows Mobile OS and Research in Motion (RIM) with BlackBerry.

3GSM 2005: Last Year in Cannes

Back in 2005, Mobile World Congress was still called “3GSM World Congress” and was taking place in Cannes, France, with a record 28,000 visitors and 600 exhibitors! The relatively small smartphone market was led by Windows Mobile (35-40%) and RIM (35-40%).

Nokia Symbian was mostly targeting features phone, the iPhone was about to be unveiled (in 2007) and Android was still a secret photography platform concept about to be launched by Andy Rubin.

The “cool” flagship devices were the HTC Tytn or the Blackberry 7130.

The Inflexion Point: 2006-2008

What happened next is a monumental moment in history and will likely be studied in business schools for years to come.

From 2006 to 2008, with the sudden eruption of Apple and Android in the market, we witnessed a surge in smartphone users (from 100 million in 2005 to 1 billion in 2015), with most choosing iOS or Android devices. Android eventually overtook Symbian in 2010.

3GSM as an event became so popular that GSMA has to find a larger space to handle the growing number of device makers, carriers and other vendors.

3SGM World Congress moved to Barcelona and opened under the new branding of Mobile World Congress (MWC) in February 2006.

2006-2016: Back to the Future?

Today, MWC is the world’s largest annual assembly within the mobile industry. In 2015, MWC had 94,000-plus attendees from 200 countries. The event’s growth correlates directly with the massive growth of the mobile industry. If we compare 2016 with 2006’s mobility market, although there are some differences, some similarities are striking.

To name a few:

  • Apple is selling one platform, with hardware and software both controlled and managed by Apple, just like RIM used to do for their BlackBerry devices. In both cases, the device manufacturer enjoys comfortable margins.
  • Android today is as fragmented as the good old Windows Mobile 5. Back in 2005, there were so many versions of Windows Mobile enhanced by OEM or local mobile operators—40-plus OEMs and 68 mobile operators, according to the original Windows Mobile 5.0 announcement—that user experiences were affected by additional layers of software or services.
  • Today, outside of Apple it is hard to find a device manufacturer not shipping Android devices, even Nokia was rumored to release Android devices until recently.

Of course, there are some major differences in the business models comparisons of BlackBerry, Apple, Windows Mobile and Android.

  • Developers and apps: What didn’t really matters in 2005-2006 is now crucial. Both Apple and Android successes have been built on marketplace mechanisms and apps ecosystems. Windows Mobile wasn’t really designed with an app ecosystem in mind, and RIM never broke through with any apps vendors. Today, Apple and Android each boast approximately 5 million available apps on their respective store.
  • While Blackberry was generating huge revenue from the BES servers shared with mobile operators, neither Apple nor Android have any infrastructure play related to their devices.
  • Android was “free,” while Microsoft was charging a few dollars per licenses to the OEMs.

10 Years into the MWC & Mobile Future: “Three Screens & Cloud Strategy”

One lesson to learn about these past 10 years is that world domination in mobile isn’t granted forever.

While the battle of users has shifted from PC only to PC+smartphone+tablet+smartwatch, etc., success now hinges on monopolizing end-user mindshare through OS, app store and services preferences. That’s why today so many players are rapidly shifting to push services and apps, regardless of form factors, altogether hosted in a cloud instance.

It’s no longer about Windows Phone or Android or iOS, but rather what apps or devices users leverage to access content (iPhone? Surface tablet? Samsung Galaxy phones or phablet?)

That was Microsoft’s vision back in 2008 when Robbie Bach, then-President of Microsoft Entertainment and Devices called it “Three Screens and the Cloud” strategy.” And at this year’s MWC, we’re all excited to experience the many booths, vendors, mobility solutions and next-gen apps that take us further down this path into the cloud.

In 10 years, I can’t wait to see what MWC 2026 holds! Until then, I hope you can join me, VMware and our incredible mobile partners in Barcelona at what promises to be our biggest, most exciting MWC experience yet.

Visit the VMware team at booth 22-25 (in Hall 3, Stand 3K10) where you can learn about our powerful solutions for mobility and the digital workspace, our open standard approach to application management, new end-user computing innovations like Project A2 and our best-in-class cloud management platform vCloud NFV. Our demo pavilion will be open 9 a.m.–7 p.m. (CET), Monday through Wednesday, as well as 9 a.m.–4 p.m. (CET) on Thursday.

We’re also offering one-on-one meetings with our VMware and AirWatch experts at Mobile World Congress. If you’re interested, email to secure your spot.

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