Expect few 'hero' device launches from established smartphone, tablet players

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Attendees at the 2013 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, should not expect many high-end "hero" device announcements, at least not from traditional players. Instead, the focus will likely be on services and content offerings, according to analysts.

The reason behind this is because many device makers are taking a page from Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) book and are using their own corporate events to announce their newest devices. That way they can better control the message, get the undivided attention of the media, and avoid being lost in the rush of MWC announcements. BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY) did this in announcing BlackBerry 10; HTC just hosted its own event to unveil the HTC One; and Samsung Electronics will likely go solo when it announces the Galaxy S IV, perhaps as soon as two weeks after MWC

As a result, Strategy Analytics analyst Kevin Burden said that "you will see mid-tier, fill-out-the-lineup phones" from most OEMs at MWC. IDC analyst John Jackson said a lack of flair from major OEMs will let up-and-coming stars like Huawei, ZTE and TCL (owner of the Alcatel One Touch brand) potentially steal the spotlight. 

However the main focus for device makers will be about enabling unique experiences, especially via mobile services like HTC's new social media and news hub, BlinkFeed. "The industry is already getting to a point where the iterations of advancement in smartphones are not earth-shattering any longer," Burden said. "It's tough to bring excitement to the mobile phone industry when everyone is using very capable mobile phones. How do you take the processing power and connection capabilities of these phones and bring a better usability to these phones?"

Jackson largely agreed, noting that "it seems pretty clear that hardware-centric business models are going to continue to hemorrhage value."

To that end, which companies might make an exciting push on the content and services front? Jackson said Sony Mobile Communications is one to watch, given its pedigree and content libraries (Sony is holding a press conference the morning of Monday, Feb. 25).

Even though Samsung is not likely to announce anything related to its Galaxy smartphones at the show, Jackson said the firm could give hints about its long-term content and services aspirations based on what the company reveals about its commitment to the Tizen open source operating system. "If they aspire to be a content and services player in their own right, they probably would not do well or have that strategy on Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) software platform," he said.   

Incidentally, executives representing Tizen, Mozilla and Ubuntu will be speaking at a keynote session Feb. 26. Mozilla itself is holding a press conference Feb. 24 to share its future plans for its Firefox OS.

Mozilla won't be the only one making waves with press announcements or conferences. Huawei will hold a press conference Feb. 24, and Monday, Feb. 25 is chock full of press conferences and briefings: LG, ZTE and Sony will all hold them. A wild card is Nokia (NYSE:NOK), which will hold a press conference Monday morning. The company could unveil new Lumia Windows Phones or it may take the wraps off its long-rumored Windows tablet.