A gigantic global mobile conference is taking place in Barcelona this week: The Mobile World Congress. Everyone’s there, from Samsung to Microsoft to Google to Nokia to WhatsApp.
Well, everyone that is, except for Apple, which never appears at conferences like these.
Not surprisingly, the announcements are coming fast and furious:
* A Chinese company is making a $US35 smartphone
* Nokia has launched 3 new Android phones, a startling thumb in the eye to its new parent Microsoft
* Microsoft is teaming up with Qualcomm to make equipment and software for super-cheap smartphones, the fastest-growing segment of the market
* Facebook’s new WhatsApp acquisition announced that it will soon offer free voice calling, a direct threat to the telecom carriers that currently charge an arm and a leg for phone service
Apple almost never shows up at events like these, so its silence this week isn’t surprising. But Apple’s silence in general these days is surprising — and frustrating for those who have gotten used to Apple being at the forefront of new categories of mobile technology.
Apple says it is working on exciting new product categories, with a TV and smartwatch likely possibilities. But the company is certainly taking its time in releasing them. And, in the meantime, competitors are charging ahead.
Apple does have the makings of a potentially powerful new service that few people talk about — payments. The company’s “Touch ID” system on the iPhone 5S, combined with “Beacons” that allow stores to send messages to consumers in stores, could represent the dawn of a magical new payments system that would place Apple square in the middle of the consumer commerce game.
But the company is being awfully quiet about this new technology, too. So many Apple observers are becoming increasingly convinced that the company is losing its edge.