Holy crap the Mobile World Congress is big. Like really big. We are talking more than 2,000 exhibitors sprawled over 9 football stadium sized halls, ranging from the gargantuan stands of Samsung, Intel, Qualcomm and Huawei to the thousands of miniscule parts manufacturers and service providers with cookie-cutter names and offerings. As always, Apple was conspicuous by being absent, but literally everyone else in the tech game was at MWC2016. I guess it doesn’t hurt that Barcelona makes for an amazing host city, so it is no surprise that this attracted over 100,000 attendees along with Mark Zuckerberg and Lewis Hamilton keynotes. The event is well positioned as a barometer for the next wave of technology that will breakthrough into consumers’ hands, and it spans well beyond the boundaries of what we traditionally think of as mobile.
So what are the big trends, and what impact will they have?
Super fast (well over 1gbps compared to 30-50mbps) and super low latency (0.75ms or less compared to 25ms), 5G wireless connections will be at least 12 times faster on average than your current 4G LTE speeds. When will we get it? Probably not before 2020. Why is it important? Well, all of the following trends rely on massive amounts of data delivered as quickly as possible…
On roughly every third stand there was a VR setup of some description, ranging in scale from simple maintenance displays up to the crazy big Samsung Roller-Coaster experience complete with moving chairs and a seatbelt requirement. We had a play with some of the most exciting consumer-ready VR headsets including HTC’s Vive, the aforementioned Samsung Gear VR and of course Oculus Rift – and they are all essentially variations on the same theme. The perception of depth and the immersion of VR have reached amazing levels, and the challenge is there to make the most creative content.
The trend here is clear – video in all variations is being hailed as the key area for growth in digital for the next few years, whether it be regular footage, 360 videos, AR or VR.
The Connected Car Challenge
With more than 300k tweets over the 4 days, it was clear that everyone is trying to solve the mystery of how the driving experience can change through increased connectivity. Ford has managed to get Toyota to join their ecosystem around the Sync platform (although at the moment their UI leaves a lot to be desired), SAP is trying to position itself as an aggregator and Jaguar demoed an impressive in-car dashboard that is already in production.
But… there was little focus on the platforms from Apple and Google, and if it was there it felt like more of a compatibility afterthought than a core system. Most OEMs keep focusing on developing their own experiences while also making small bets developing partnerships. Porsche was an exception, choosing Carplay for this reason: “car interface decisions made today take 4 years to come to market and will then be sold in vehicles for another 5 years after that, so they will be significantly out of date. We need to focus on modular and updatable solutions for vehicle cabin technologies.” Yassss.
Daimler-Benz showcased some amazing concept vehicles, and their automated driving vision was inspiring. Shell’s David Bunch and Marc Decorte presented to packed rooms on the future of energy and transport (big thanks to the MOBGEN team who work on the Shell API document and website for this!), and the reception was very positive about the innovation and strategy behind it all. Lots of excitement also around Project M.
On every second stand there was an “Internet of Things” display. Everything is connected now – life, health, home, car, pets, food and now even bikes and snowboards. It is also evident that almost every company is “playing” in their non-origin territory. For example, MasterCard now promoting connected home services. The arena is common to all and there is a rapidly emerging realisation that everyone wants a piece of the new pie. Some of the most impressive examples were from the industrial sector, with companies like Libelium making very flexible connected sensor boxes that can be used to measure almost anything.
Intel had one of our favourite stands, displaying a number of use cases for their technology like BMX-bike trick measurements and crop health data mapping.
On the flipside there were a number of fails in IoT displays on the other stands – bluescreens, missed cues and error messages abounded as people tried to demo things that weren’t ready for prime time. Plenty of face-planting robots too, much to the entertainment of the masses.
Watches and wearables
Continuing the trend from the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas last month, second generation Smart Watches were introduced to the MWC audience, although the more common response was a yawn. Accessories brands such as Fossil and Guess focused on bolting-on smart functionality to existing models while retaining the traditional Quartz and Mechanical watch faces. Swiss watchmaker Tag Heuer, in partnership with Intel, tried to take on the Apple Watch with its $1500 titanium encased model. The new Samsung watches are impressive, but it seems there are none will rival the success of Apple in this area in the short term.
While accessories and technology brands are trying to discover their identity and role in the Smart Watch space, companies like Sony and Samsung gave us an exciting sneak peek into how the future connected home will look like. Inspired by Amazon’s Alexa, Sony is bringing to life its own digital assistant that can manage your calendar, send texts on your behalf and change the lighting in the house depending on the time and the mood. Samsung’s new generation smartphones come with a remote that easily connects with all Smart Home peripherals and allows users to take control of all devices.
IBM is putting all their eggs into the contextual computing area with their Watson program. This is big data and pattern recognition taken to the next level, and they define it as the way to actually take all of the ‘dark data’ created by the above trends and making some sense of them all.
The surprise of the event for me was a smallish area of a dozen stands in the back of hall 8 showcasing the potential of graphene. This 2D carbon is 100 times stronger than steel, transparent, electric and heat conductive, and it can be printed, inked, pressed, grown, powdered, molded, synthesized… it is pretty much magic. Competing universities were showing off their experiments, including flexible screens, flexible batteries, conductive everything, sensor arrays etc. To be completely honest I didn’t understand much of what they were saying, but I trust that this is a vision of the future.
Is there a conclusion?
The discussion is no longer purely about devices and hardware, as access to these has been democratised. Instead it is about what services can be made available across the many touchpoints. Wearables, Cars, screens and accessories of the future will be connected to your custom profile. Many retailers and tech companies seem to get this, and now focus more and more on building open APIs and SDKs to their services and content. MOBGEN and other creative, innovative mobile companies who can understand how to use these feeds are perfectly positioned for maximum win. Also, graphene.