Put that phone away and talk to us: The Alternate Reality of MWC
Mobile World Congress 2016 has just wrapped, and we are all heading home to our families and mums, many of whom still find it difficult to grasp exactly what we do. But going back to reality feels good, after having spent the past week in the MWC bubble.
For the last four days, hundreds of companies have tried to persuade us on their views of the future. They told us about all of the smart things that will make our lives better – and they shouted to the world how their business will get even bigger and more innovative.
If my mum had been at the conference, she would have liked the Starbucks stand covered in Microsoft tablets and loved the free Android smoothies and cute fluffy dog. But she would have told me the collar developed to track your dog’s every move and sending notifications to your smartphone is useless because dogs by nature are designed to follow you around anyway. (Overall, she would have been happy with all the suits around, because it means I have a “real job,” and she could stop sending me job adverts for banking jobs.)
No one talked about new smartphones. No mentions of Apple. This doesn’t feel like the Mobile World Congress of the old days – it’s now a niche congress. So what did we see across the huge halls?
Fashion and luxury:
Fashion was everywhere, from the athleisure attire to jeweled accessories at Sony and Samsung. Huawei was adorned with ties and handbags and clothes, in addition to the fancy technology.
All but the biggest names had a partnership, from B&O partnering up with LG to Under Armour collaborating with HTC. It’s interesting that in most cases, it was the fashion companies that were driving the concepts, whereas the technology was taking on the role of “design and deliver.”
A lot of the stands had labs of experiments deliberately styled to look like live making. Android was the biggest, but there was definitely a shift to show work in progress and the feeling of geeky scientists building the next big thing in front of your eyes.
Modular and flexible:
Many people and companies have been making noise about this for years, but last week was the first time we say a major manufacturer launch a modular smartphone that you can upgrade yourself with modules called “friends.” Is this the end of the big yearly product launch? We also saw the e-sim in a few places, potentially opening up the opportunity to have a range of networks for different uses or the end of the long contract.
Lots of little living things:
We are without a doubt breaking away from mobile. From Sony’s hearables and projectors, to rings by LTE, to smart devices for pets, and Drones that watch your cows. Smart watches, smart scales and smart lampposts, that let you be dumb, while they keep you alive. Our dumb services are about to become Living Services.
Back to nature:
The tension between the approachable, wooden and grass-covered stands and the glossy products was stark. The marketing departments wanted you to feel at home and in-tune with the human world, but the products haven’t caught up yet.
Virtual Reality has taken over
The big one. There wasn’t a stand that didn’t have goggles on it, even if they just wanted you to see a 3D map of their locations rather than a flat one. There is no doubt it’s impressive immersive technology, but will it be able to take on the mass consumer market beyond games? Or is it too soon and the hardware still too big and awkward? Even Mark Zuckerberg told the press that mass market VR is still 10 years away.
There will be an image stuck in my mind for a long time of fields of people staring into space, or dancing around, oblivious to the people around them.
It’s bad enough when I have my phone at the dinner table, imagine when I come to dinner wearing VR goggles, a Sony projector, lots of LG friends and wearing white gloves so I don’t smudge anything.
I wish my mum had gone, because she could have told the suits there’s some other realities to put our brains on to. Where are the services for the 2 billion people with no bank account? Or the aging population that must be in the billions?
Going back to reality is strange, going back home at Christmas sitting at the kitchen table with a car phone stuck to our faces would be even stranger. My mum would have a lot to say about that.
The future is not yet made.