MWC 2009: Android, Windows in Smartphone Showdown

An army of Androids will march on Barcelona next week, and Microsoft hopes to stop them. This year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC 2009) trade show, the biggest mobile-phone show of the year, promises to be a mobile OS battle royale, with a glut of Google phones aiming for total world domination.
Like the rest of tech, the global mobile phone market is suffering the effects of the global financial crisis. Research firm Strategy Analytics said the global market will shrink 9 percent in 2009. Competing research firm ABI estimates the drop as more like 2.5 percent. But that still means mobile firms will sell more than 1 billion phones next year, far more units than the PC industry will sell.
Smart phones are a very bright spot in the market. ABI said that the 171 million global smart phones shipped in 2008 will increase to 203 million in 2009. So as the mobile-phone companies descend on the Fira de Barcelona to flog their wares, there’s understandable excitement about everyone trying to grab a bigger piece of the growing smart phone pie.
The biggest story of MWC will undoubtably be a flood of phones running Google’s Android OS. General Mobile and Huawei have already said they’re bringing Android phones to the table, and we’re pretty sure we’ll hear something about Android at the Samsung, LG and HTC press conferences. All three companies have vowed to bring more Android products to market in 2009.
Attempting to blunt the Android onslaught, Microsoft will have a press conference at 9 AM ET on Feb. 16, where the company is expected to announce Windows Mobile 6.5. We don’t know much about Windows Mobile 6.5 so far, other than that it apparently has a new, much more finger-friendly home screen layout for touch-screen devices. If this announcement takes Microsoft’s traditional road, it will be months before any Windows Mobile 6.5 phones hit the market. But their press conference is a chance to steal some mind-share back from Google, Apple and RIM, all of whom have been gaining ground recently at Microsoft’s expense.
MWC will serve as the coming-out party for some new mobile manufacturers. Garmin and Asus have allied to create Garmin-Asus, and we’ll see if their new nuvifone GPS phone can actually get us to our hotel from the airport. Meanwhile, Acer has swallowed the former E-Ten and will transmute it into a new, Acer-branded smart phone line. We’re sure to find other new brands popping up around the Fira de Barcelona, too, though most of them are unlikely to ever see U.S. shelves.
Other major players will try to get a word in amongst all the madness. Palm isn’t holding a press conference, but we expect they’ll announce a GSM/UMTS version of their Pre smart phone and a European carrier to go with it. And Nokia, the world’s number-one mobile phone company, is keeping their announcements close to their chest. Their latest flagship product, the N97, got a very lukewarm reception recently, so they’ll have to do something to recapture mobile mind share.
Sick of mobile phones? We’ve got word that a few netbooks will appear for the first time at MWC, too. Mobile-phone component makers like Freescale, Marvell, ARM and Qualcomm are trying to loosen Intel’s hold over the hottest segment of the notebook world, promising that their chips can provide just as much computing power with less power consumption.
There are a few big names missing from the show. Apple, of course, never attends any event that anyone else might be headlining. RIM, makers of the BlackBerry, are doing just fine, but aren’t anticipated to announce anything new. Motorola is also laying low, as they seem to be perpetually retrenching.