MobileBeat: USA will leapfrog Europe

We came away from yesterday’s MobileBeat 2009 conference with a surprise lesson: Europe’s mobile industry has led the world since its birth, but the balance of power is changing. Many attendees remarked on it: MobileBeat is an event the Valley couldn’t have pulled off a couple of years ago, but now it rivals what you’d expect from a European conference. We’re not bragging; it’s simply the case that the iPhone has given Americans a new excitement, enthusiasm and energy for mobile goodies.

We Yanks care enough now to argue about it onstage: Google VP of Engineering Vic Gundotra drew lots of attention at MobileBeat for declaring Google is “not rich enough” to support individual app platforms, as opposed to one standardized browser-based platform.

Not-Rich-Enough Vic also told the audience that unlimited data plans are the future. They change users’ behavior drastically and permanently. As a new iPhone owner, I have to agree. It’s like 1993 all over again. Just as PC users went crazy for the World-Wide Web 15 years ago, mobile phone owners are discovering what feels like new and unlimited opportunities for their handsets, even the low-priced ones. Once they get a taste, they don’t want to go back.

Nokia R&D exec Tero Ojanpera’s bemused reaction to Gundotra’s evangelism was the sort of response you had to be in the room to appreciate. Nokia is far and away the biggest seller of cellphones on the planet, Ojanpera reminded us. And, yes, Nokia is also moving toward an everything-in-the-browser platform. But the company isn’t going to demand that carriers give away data plans. That’s not the way to keep the sort of relationships Nokia has with wireless carriers.

Generally, though, the Europeans sided with us. Alex Moukas, CEO of Velti, the top European mobile ad company, said he fully expects the U.S. to leap ahead of Europe in mobile advertising within two years. Henri Moissinac, who runs Facebook Mobile, sees the American mobile industry as a bunch of babies. We’re going to change a few thousand diapers this year, he said, but by next year the industry will be walking. After that comes learning its ABCs. Watch out, Europe. Silicon Valley is a fast learner.

[Slideshow credit: Nandor Fejer, of FutureWorks PR]