The No Show
I was reminiscing back to some of the earlier days of Mobile World Congress (but not as far back as when it was held in France), and I remembered the massive and infinitely fun Google booth, with slushie makers and gigantic slides. It was like a candy store, and there were technology demonstrations everywhere. You could hardly move. Google was just getting Android some recognition back then, and then CEO Eric Schmidt gave a keynote that everyone flocked to see. Since Apple never comes to Mobile World Congress, it became a great place for Google to enter puberty as a mobile company. This year, I was leaving a meeting in the last hall in the very back of the Fira conference center and I stumbled on Google's tiny booth. It was filled with a few small meeting rooms, some Android tablets for people to play with, and a few folks playing with robotics. It made me a little sad.
Likewise, back in 2010 I remember crowding into an absolutely bezerk ballroom, standing room only, to see then-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announce Windows Phone 7. There were doubters then, as there are now, but it was a little shocking because it was a complete new product, and Microsoft was tossing away Windows Mobile, a product that was leaking market share, but still had a foothold with customers. Microsoft, too, needed Mobile World Congress then. This year, Microsoft is in one of the major halls, but stuck to letting several partners, including Huawei with its surprise Surface competitor, the MateBook, take the spotlight.
Sure, you can call me nostalgic, but Mobile World Congress is a gathering of the entire mobile ecosystem—carriers, carrier infrastructure providers, handset makers, content companies, and so much more. Having cornerstone players like Google and Microsoft actually helped, but somehow both companies have faded into the background of this event for various reasons (Google doesn't need the show as much, I suspect). It feels like they've turned their backs on this ecosystem in some way. Still, Mobile World Congress has almost twice as many attendees this year as it did back then, so what do I know.