What people are talking about at Mobile World Congress 2009

It was another manic Monday here at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona--day one of the industry's signature event didn't offer too many surprises, but it did generate a flurry of new services, devices and deals. Here's what's people are buzzing about. 

App stores are officially all the rage. Both Nokia and Microsoft followed Apple's lead and launched their own branded mobile applications storefronts. Nokia's Ovi Store will consolidate its existing Download!, Mosh and WidSets efforts, touting a customized and contextually relevant user experience determined by factors like personal contacts and physical whereabouts (or as Nokia calls it, "Social Location"). Consumers can activate social discovery features to receive updates and recommendations on content enjoyed within their social networking circles--in addition, Ovi Store will present content and applications tied to the user's present location.

"The central idea is that the media you consume is no longer just about what you bought, but also where, when and who bought it," said Nokia executive vice president Niklas Savander. "Ovi Store is about immediacy and personal relevance. The service will learn your habits and tastes, and anticipate what you want to consume."

Nokia will open Ovi Store in May in nine countries--the store will be pre-integrated on the new N97, also launched Monday and scheduled for commercial release in June, and Nokia forecasts the service will reach an addressable device base topping 300 million by 2012. Ovi Store will feature both free and premium downloads--in the case of the latter, Nokia will award 70 percent of revenues to developers, and offer credit-card billing or operator billing mechanisms depending on the international market in question.

Microsoft offered significantly fewer details about its fledgling Windows Marketplace for Mobile (not SkyMarket, as previously speculated). Promising users a comprehensive site to search, browse and purchase Windows Mobile applications from WinMo phones or on a PC by using a Windows Live ID, the new app store will be included on all new Windows Mobile 6.5 devices. But unlike Nokia, Microsoft did not address how it will break down revenue share, nor did it state how apps will be billed.

Other new entrants in the app store derby: Handset maker LG Electronics, which said it will debut an application storefront during the second quarter, and mobile content distribution solutions provider mPortico, which introduced its Cross-Platform Mobile Application Store in partnership with Internet retailer Buy.com.

Something strange is going on with Android. Many industry wags forecasted Mobile World Congress 2009 would introduce a wave of new devices powered by Google's Android mobile OS, but it appears that several planned Android announcements were scrapped at the 11th hour, and no one is saying why. Late last week Samsung confirmed it will delay the launch of its first Android device until the second half of this year--the handset maker was expected to announce the phone this week. Samsung said it is still "planning internally" on releasing an Android handset and that it remains in negotiations with several potential operator partners.

So you can imagine the reaction when HTC--also rumored to debut its second Android device in Barcelona--instead offered up two new Windows Mobile devices, the Touch Diamond 2 and the Touch Pro 2. While LG Electronics said it plans to release a number of new Android phones across the remainder of 2009, attendees here are questioning why and how the momentum behind the operating system evaporated so quickly. Expect the state of the Android platform to remain a topic of much debate leading up to and during the CTIA Wireless 2009 event in April.

Maybe the economic outlook isn't so dire after all. Despite advance concern over how the global financial meltdown might impact Mobile World Congress 2009, attendance is impressive--in an interview with sister publication FierceWireless, GSMC Limited CEO John Hoffman, who oversees the conference and exhibition, said there are about 49,000 registered attendees, adding he expects the total to top out somewhere in excess of 50,000. By comparison, the 2007 and 2008 incarnations of Mobile World Congress boasted attendance totals between 53,000 and 55,000. Hoffman also reports the number of exhibitors increased over last year's conference.

Most promising of all, Hoffman said certain areas of the conference have even expanded this year. For example, Hall 7 is 40 percent larger this time--to accommodate all of the new mobile content and applications exhibitors. Whatever challenges those new app stores may face, it's clear that inventory won't be one of them. -Jason