Last week we visited Barcelona for the world’s biggest mobile event: Mobile World Congress. Over four days, the mobile world was inundated with new technology, software and devices, focused on improving and enhancing mobile users’ lives, all over the globe.
But with such a huge global interest in this event, finding out what’s genuinely ground-breaking news and what’s just corporate PR-filler can be a challenge.
We’ve collated the thoughts of Apadmi Co-Founder, Nick Black, and Apadmi Head of Business Development, Ross Menghini, who were in Barcelona last week to help sift through the noise and outline what news really matters from Mobile World Congress.
Just how big is Mobile World Congress?
It’s huge, and keeps growing every year. 108,000+ visitors. 2,200+ exhibitors. 8 event halls. All facets of mobile are covered under one global exhibition. And therein lies the challenge. Just how do you find out what’s important, and what’s not when there is so much ‘news’ coming out of one event.
New Mobile Devices
Let’s start with the obvious one. Mobile World Congress has historically been the forum for the world’s largest mobile phone manufacturers to showcase their latest and greatest devices to the world.
Sony, LG, Blackberry and Nokia/HMD all announced new smartphones. No massive news here apart from the big news from the Nokia camp. The 3310 will be making a return in an updated format for 2017. Over 126 million of the original 3310’s have been sold since it was launched back in 2000, and it stands at number 11 in the list of best-selling phones of all time.
At first, many of the 108,000+ attendees were asking whether this was just a PR stunt to relaunch Nokia’s mobile phone reputation, through their partnership with HMD. Yet the demand for the 3310 seems to be surging, and the crowds around their stand certainly gave it a buzz. It doesn’t contain the ‘standard’ features of a smartphone, but many people seem to be enamoured by the €49 price tag, modernised look and a stand-by battery life of around a month – there is also the ability to play Snake on a ‘proper’ keypad. More likely to morph into a second device for people to use at festivals instead of a traditional smartphone, or as a backup phone, the jury is still out on just what the public will make of Nokia’s most successful phone model to date once the initial wave of nostalgia passes. We would highly suspect that the youth of today will not give up their most treasured apps any time soon, but it will work well for anyone who just wants the basics of calls and texts.
Samsung were noticeably absent from the smartphone launch party, most likely due to the previous issues faced following its Galaxy Note7’s recall. The anticipated launch of the new S8 model has been pushed back, with the ongoing Samsung TV commercial focus on testing and quality.
Focus on Smart Technology
“I’ve been coming to Mobile World Congress for 14 years and it used to be focused on new mobile devices. This year was different. A lot of the buzz has shifted to the new smart technologies that will change our lives over the coming years, such as Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robots, Internet of Things (IoT), Speech Recognition and Smart Cities. However the mobile device in our pocket will still play a major role to connect us to this new smart world” says Nick.
And it wasn’t just Nick who thought this. The general consensus was that the world has moved on. This headline seemed to sum up what many were thinking following the event: Let’s face it, Mobile World Congress isn’t about the mobile any more.
So what do you need to know about each of these technologies?
AR and VR
VR is still in its infancy with respect to user adoption, but it’s potential to transform the way that we work, shop, socialise and consume media is massive. Not many people really know what its full capabilities will become and what impact this technology will have on the wider general population and when exactly will it, finally, be mass adopted (it’s been around a long time).
All signs are positive though. Social media behemoth Facebook acquired VR firm Oculus for $2bn in 2014 and their CEO Mark Zuckerberg has created a Social VR team who will “explore how people can connect and share using today’s VR technology, as well as long-term possibilities as VR evolves into an increasingly important computing platform.”
VR was a main theme of last year’s Mobile World Congress, with demos everywhere, and this continued this year with VR demos throughout the show.
Samsung in particular had a large area of ther stand dedicated to VR, with theme park type experiences on show and people strapped into full 360 rotating machines to enhance the immersive experience. They announced the new Samsung Gear VR headset with a controller, with distortion correction technology to reduce motion sickness, which is one of the issues with VR.
There are a couple of key areas that will need to be addressed in order for VR to become a mainstream technology. Firstly, the number of high quality headsets on offer is not huge. Good quality headsets are also expensive, although that seems to be slowly changing. Secondly, the number of good applications to utilise the technology are limited.
Until these issues are fixed, it is expected that the biggest uptake for VR will be in the enterprise application sector where businesses are using the technology in areas such as training, like this example from Dutch airline KLM.
On the other hand, AR & Mixed Reality – applying a digital layer over our real world experience – is touted as having more commercial advantages by those who have already seen success with the technology, and the business use for this technology is massive in sectors such as healthcare, retail and manufacturing with headsets such as the Microsoft HoloLens, and the DAQRI Smart Helmet, powered by Ubuntu.
However, as much as Pokemon Go showed how a surge in interest can be achieved by such technology, we don’t expect AR to fully take off with consumers until new fashionable and socially acceptable headsets become available. Maybe Magicleap will be at Mobile World Congress some time soon…
AI, Bots & Speech Recognition
AI has generated a lot of press column inches over the last few months, and was on show in many forms throughout Mobile World Congress this year – it was the key of the event for us. Self-driving cars, ‘bots’ and things you could talk to were on display everywhere.
Similar to VR, this technology is still in its infancy, but with massive potential. It’s here now in limited cases, and it’s usage is only going to increase.
There are obviously very real concerns around this technology in how it will change large sectors of the working population, but this change shouldn’t be a bad thing. If we help to evolve the skillset of the workforce in parallel to the progression of technology, these bots can happily take on the more laborious and repetitive tasks humans currently do, and allow humans to do what they do best: innovate and create.
There are massive business advantages to this technology, in the way that it will transform companies to enhance productivity and efficiency, enable better decision making and provide an enhanced customer experience, as long as the technology is implemented well. A phone bot that gets it wrong like the Fonejacker TV character, or a “Scary Monster” that knows too much about the user will turn customers away.
The modern consumer is already excited about the prospects of the technology and how it will simplify their life. Announcements from Google on a new smart speaker is just one of many over the last few weeks and adds yet another product to a rapidly expanding smart speaker range, including other products from Amazon and Microsoft.
Many at Mobile World Congress were flocking to the automotive giants who were showcasing their latest technological developments to help aid an already heavily assisted driver.
This year, the focus wasn’t on in-car driver aids like self-parking cars and other gimmicks as we’ve seen in years gone by. It was all about connectivity. The links to the importance of 5G connectivity were unavoidable, but the sentiment was clear: cars, just like everything else, will become fully connected tools, helping to inform drivers about key events (not just in the car, but throughout the rest of their connected lives), as well as enhancing safety for both drivers, passengers and pedestrians.
The link with cars and IoT also tied in nicely to the amount of promotion given to smart cities at the event. Technology was on display to showcase developments in road-side street lighting, air pollution monitoring, meteorology and even what to do in the event of terrorism in an urban area.
Still, this isn’t a surprise. Gartner says there’ll be 8.4 billion connected things by the end of this year. By 2020, that number is predicted to rise to over 20 billion. IoT is most definitely here to stay.
The primary concern that will need to be addressed is data security. If manufacturers and software providers can convince the public their personal details are secure, they’ve won half the battle.
Once heralded as the next big thing in technology, wearable tech has not developed as many had predicted.
The presence of wearable tech at Mobile World Congress this year was noticeably smaller than in previous years.
However, the watches we did see are now starting to look like normal watches, which is a good thing in our view, such as the Samsung Gear3 – sometimes technology is best when it is hidden.
No doubt that there’s money to be made in wearable tech, but it may well have to wait until the next innovation in wearables comes along which will help with location tracking (think enterprise apps for health and safety in the workplace) and lighting in clothing (cyclists and pedestrians), and the connectivity of other wearable items through IoT. However, like all tech, battery life will always be a consideration around whether people will use it every day (as highlighted with the relaunch of Nokia’s 3310).
5G is (slowly) on its way
Another of the key themes of Mobile World Congress, and potentially one of the most interesting ‘enabling’ technologies, was the focus on 5G connectivity which will influence the entire mobile industry. Let’s confirm early on that this move to 5G won’t happen overnight. Or even anytime soon. It’s a work in progress. First estimates are that we won’t be able to experience 5G connectivity until 2019 and it might cost €56bn to roll out in Europe alone.
New standards for data connectivity need to be agreed upon by national and international operators, manufacturers and other telecoms infrastructure providers. It’s a mammoth task. But it’s an essential one.
This next generation connectivity will enable all of the smart technology detailed above to help influence and progress everyday people’s lives. Cars talking to their surroundings, other cars and household appliances, both of which are synced to your phone. Electrical sockets in your house communicating with your coffee machine. IoT, or the Internet of Everything as some call it, will explode once 5G arrives. This isn’t to say IoT cannot be done well now, but it’s somewhat limited compared to the expanded capabilities 5G will bring to the party.
The past year has been a whirlwind of progression and innovation, and the variety of technology and ideas shown throughout our four days in Barcelona have confirmed that.
Even though we have been in the mobile industry for over 18 years, and seen a lot of change over that time from the first smartphone apps created back in 1998, we now appear to be at the start of a very exciting period of change and tech innovation that over the next five years will enhance our lives and work.
And this is the key take away for us from Mobile World Congress 2017 and the wider outlook for the mobile technology market. It is no longer just about the mobile phone. It’s about a mobile centric technology world, where the science of AI, VR, AR, IoT and Big Data will combine, supported by 5G connectivity. This will enable us all to receive personalised, context-aware content, that we want to receive, delivered in real-time.
Businesses that understand this, will be able to take advantage of new technology, and innovate on top of it, to integrate their systems and data and help drive better engagement with both their customers and employees.