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MWC 2012 - Facebook, Google and Apple: of Bêtes Noires and the Art of Evasion

While Google’s Eric Schmidt has graced the stage of the Mobile World Congress for each of the last three years, it was Facebook who provided the new headline star draw speaker in Bret Taylor, its CTO. The approaches of these adjacent players to addressing the Congress, and that of Apple, reveal an interesting pattern.

We’ve said previously that in these large public events, the most interesting messages are often hidden in how things are said, what is not said, and indeed who is not there, and we offer as evidence our analysis of the three different styles of interaction of these so-called ‘OTT’ bêtes noires with the Congress.

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There’s more than one sort of bête noire -Huawei’s magnificent promo piece from the Congress. (Photo: Telco 2.0)

(See Dealing with the ‘Disruptors’: Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft/Skype and Amazon for more about these players’ business models and strategies, or join us at the Silicon Valley Brainstorm, 27-28 March).

Google: the ‘Transcendent Evasion Play’

Dr Eric Schmidt is always an impressive speaker. We wrote two years ago in How Google’s Chief Magician Stole the Show admiring his prowess on the stage, and ability to effortlessly glide through an hour long presentation and bedazzle a captivated audience.

He is now perhaps an even better speaker, articulate, knowledgeable and germane, warm and engaged, never flustered, easily handling questions from the floor on a range of topics including solar flares, advertising and the US laws relating to Iran.

Yet there is a difference between today’s Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman, Google, and the former Eric Schmidt, CEO. There’s still an occasionally abrasive edge to the high-achieving Stanford professor, but now it’s tempered by a slightly saintly demeanour.

In this years’ sermon from Mountain View, Dr Schmidt first got his assistants to perform a technological sleight of hand with the new superfast Chrome browser, drawing predictable ‘woos’ from the tech hungry crowd, even though last year, Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer CEO pulled the ‘look how fast we are’ stunt to some effect too (see Mobile World Congress: Microsoft CEO fails to land all punches, but…).

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Dr Eric Schmidt, Chairman, Google, on the right (Photo: GSMA)

Once this was over, the increasingly avuncular Schmidt turned to musing on how to connect the next 5 billion souls, lowering traffic accidents, and increasing the knowledge and wellbeing of the world’s populace.

It was a great visionary talk, and a beautifully managed Q&A session. At one point, demonstrating empathy with his questioner on when Google would be available in Iran, he said ‘hey, I’d like to help you, I’m on your side. But it’s against U.S. law, and there’s no bandwidth in prison’. Everyman, statesman, legal expert, geek and stand-up comedian in one line - as near to genius as you will get on any industry stage.

Yet after the beguiling magic, one was left with a feeling that’s a bit like awakening from an anaesthetic: feeling sure that something important had happened but unable to remember what it was. Indeed, it causes us to speculate that this is Schmidt’s real role these days - to keep the patients calm while the real operation is going on elsewhere.

We also wonder if Dr Schmidt is secretly relieved to be off on this away-team charm offensive while the kids back home mess around with driverless cars. (NB. We’re just working on further analysis on Google’s current strategy, so there will be more on this shortly.)

So to summarise, the ‘Trancendent Evasion Play’, as perfected by Dr Schmidt, is to draw the audience up, up and away from the pain and problems of the everyday world (such as the less comfortable realities of the reality of the complex relationship between Google and the telcos), and take their minds off to a warmer, nicer place where poor people learn and prosper and rich people have all they can dream of.

Facebook: the ‘Special Forces Evasion Play’

The ‘Special Forces Evasion Play’ is to get in without being rumbled, hit hard, and get out as fast as you can before they know what has happened.

This is roughly the approach used by Bret Taylor, Facebook’s CTO, who came, saw, threw a couple of technology flash-bomb use cases, gunned off a few lines of Silicon Valley speak, and then went without taking questions. It is only with the benefit of a week’s professional post-shock counselling, and many cups of tea and sympathy, that the intrepid Telco 2.0 analysts been able to piece together the following account of his talk.

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Bret Taylor, CTO, Facebook

Facebook, while seen by Taylor as essentially a mobile product, is having difficulties monetising its 435 million mobile users (see Facebook: what the pre-IPO S-1 filing revealed and M-Commerce: can Voice 2.0 make mobile ads work at last?). He said that this was because the same ecosystems do not exist around the mobile web as they do online. There are three specific problems: 1) app discovery is difficult; 2) there is technological fragmentation with different HTML5 standards on different phones, and; 3) payment is ‘broken’, with a clunky process requiring SMS verification, and different deals needing to be done in different regions / countries.

He said that Facebook’s ongoing solution to app discovery is ‘Open Graph’ (a way of allowing developers to associate recommended apps on the basis of a user’s social graph), and then announced that Facebook would be:

• prioritising core mobile web standards for HTML5, with W2C and Ringmark - a test suite that shows how well a mobile app matches these standards;
• and entering into partnerships around the world Telefonica, Vodafone and others, to deliver a single step to confirm purchases charged to the phone bill.

Apple: the ‘Not Being There Evasion Play’

Finally, Apple, the giant mobile device company with the highest valuation and biggest profit margins in the industry, manages its Mobile World Congress evasion strategy in the most cunning, outrageous and unanswerable way possible: it does not make an appearance (although Apple execs were allegedly there).

At Telco 2.0 however, we found it to be a genuinely useful and enjoyable show, and being just a little behind Apple in turns of market cap and revenues, we’ll see you there next year. We would also like to thank our partners at the GSMA for what turned out to be a busy and memorable Congress.

Last but not least, congratulations to Huawei, who produced the genuinely striking and beautiful promotional figure of the winged horse made of smartphones atop the fountains of the Fira featured at the top of this article, and farewell to CBOSS, who would do well to learn from Huawei’s example on how to do marketing that’s memorable for the right reasons.

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