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Yesterday was an interesting day for me at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. As always the sheer size of this event is somewhat overwhelming, however there is no better place to see what the future of the mobile industry holds.
One thing that really stood out on day one is that Samsung, which has one of the largest stands here by far, has chosen not to launch its flagship product for the year, the Galaxy S4. Instead the company opted to use social media to announce that the S4 will be unveiled to the world at a special event in New York on March 14 (which will also be streamed online). This is one of the clearest indications yet that the center of the mobile industry has seen a shift from Europe to North America.
Traditionally MWC, and Europe in general, was the dominant market for mobile innovation. Major companies such as Nokia, Ericsson and Vodafone have long held the power and driven industry innovation.
Now the power has shifted to the U.S.. Apple and Google are the leading players in the mobile market with their superiority rooted in software for smartphones. For competitors to rival these big players, they need to be seen on the other side of the Atlantic in Apple and Google’s domestic market. This is without doubt part of Samsung’s rationale for launching the S4 in New York.
However this transfer in epicenter does not mean that the European mobile market has died. In fact, the shift has given rise to a new, thriving market for app development. In the UK in particular the market for mobile app developers, building new products for smartphones, is producing some genuinely brilliant businesses, which are catching the eyes of investors. A great example of this is SwiftKey, which topped the Google Play paid app charts for more days than any other app in 2012.
An example of how the app market has developed in the UK is the Smart UK Project, a competition run by the UK Trade & Investment, which held the final of its contest today here at MWC.
Beginning with 70 UK based mobile companies, a shortlist of 20 was selected and this was then reduced again to five, who had the privilege of presenting to a panel of six judges at the show, of which I was one.
This year’s winner, OpenSignal, is a brilliantly innovative app that can help users to understand the quality of the network coverage they have in any given region. Despite fierce competition, OpenSignal has really wowed the judges with its innovation and practical application. Knowing which mobile network operator best covers where you live is an attractive proposition for consumers and will certainly increase competition among operators.
There has been a clear shift in where the mobile industry considers its main market to be, representing a change in business strategies for handset manufacturers and telcos. This has given rise to new business and investment opportunities, especially in the burgeoning app market. As always, the UK finds itself a hotbed of innovation and creativity and with competitions such as the Smart UK Project, investors don’t have to look far to find their next opportunity.
Frederic Lardieg is a principal at Octopus Ventures. You can follow him on Twitter at @FredLardieg.