MWC 17: Experiences and partnerships take a driving seat for a better connected world
Mobile World Congress in Barcelona is all about mobile, but over the years, ‘mobile’ has come to mean more than the smartphones in our pockets. Today, it’s equally about digital experiences and devices that enable cities, people and businesses to operate in a more fluid way, responding and adapting at a quicker pace than ever before. Don’t get me wrong. MWC is still very much about the handsets—both new and old thanks to Nokia—but as the world around us has changed, so has the very nature of ‘mobile’.
I had the pleasure of being part of the Fjord team that headed to Barcelona, where we joined forces with Accenture Digital—Fjord is a core element of Accenture’s new Innovation Architecture.
No sooner had the conference opened than the #FjordMWC team set off to spot patterns throughout MWC—the trends, phenomena and portents for what’s happening in the industry. So, what were the themes that stood out for us over the four days? Almost like a version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the themes run from materials, into connectivity, then devices, then experiences, then, at the top, purpose. Let’s look at each in turn:
Natural materials will become increasingly important.
The industry will look at which materials will help drive innovation further. In one of the MWC halls we found a whole corner devoted to graphene, the miracle material that’s incredibly strong, yet ultra-light. It’s also flexible and conducts, and ridiculously thin. While the stands focused on the material itself, it’s safe to predict that in a year or two, we’ll see lots of new technologies that use this material more—it’s possible to imagine wearables that are so discreet you can barely sense them, and even retinals. This material can do it; it’s a question now of invention, innovation and commercialisation.
Sensors, sensors everywhere.
There were countless stands exhibiting the ‘raw matter’ of the Internet of Things—the sensors that can provide data on anything that moves or where a decision is required. Some were useful, some fantastic, some very enabling, others really boxy and hideous, and, to be honest, a couple that were a little on the bizarre side. But there’s a use case lurking, nonetheless.
Connectivity becomes key for ultra-connected people and things.
5G is obviously the next evolution of LTE, and most large stands, as to be expected, had something to say on this. Now, there’s not much to add to the general debate here. However, to me it became clear that MWC was a story of two forms of connectivity: 5G for the ultra-connected human being, and low power LPWAN (and other standards) connectivity for the ultra-connected thing. Lest we forget, the internet is physical, and requires power.
Devices take on different guises.
There will not be a MWC without devices, and this year didn’t disappoint: smartphones, touch screens, and feature phones wherever you looked. But that’s not very newsworthy. What we found more interesting was the air of nostalgia that flowed through the exhibition. Already before the congress, the tech media was lit up by the arrival of the new Nokia 3310—a remake of the classic released nearly two decades ago. And then there was the Android-powered keyboard phones from Blackberry (both with their new owners). A clear indicator that people may be seeking out simplicity in an extremely digitised world.
Elsewhere, Kodak put a stake in the mobile ground with their photography-first Ektra smartphone. Huawei also made their presence known, not only because of their glitzy, expensive looking display, complete with clouds, but also through their partnership with Leica: a clear response to people’s desire to create stories on the fly, whenever, wherever, as seen in our Ephemeral Stories trend.
Another standout was how much device now equals car. Wherever you went you weren’t far from a car, and almost every major stand had one, from NEC through to Vodafone, via Accenture and AT&T, through to the manufacturers themselves—Mercedes, BMW, Peugeot and SEAT. At times, it felt more like the Geneva Motor Show, but it’s a clear signifier to how cars and the services of tomorrow are being increasingly interlinked.
Experience takes a driving seat.
We’re moving into an era where experience is becoming paramount, and this was clear throughout MWC. Ford, known for their cars, turned up in Barcelona without a car. Instead, they presented a vision for the city of tomorrow—transport, enabled by Ford to make the experience of cities better. Nokia on the other hand looked at entertainment and connected stadiums with 5G, while Sony showed some very interesting new home and entertainment devices, from Alexa-competing Xperia home assistants through to headphones that allow one to listen, while still hearing all the ambient sounds around.
Many companies also showcased how they see experience and work collide in the future, with devices, sensors and analytics that will overall improve the way we work. From connected helmets enabling workers to be monitored for safety, through to robots for industrial applications—some quite humanoid—the future of work was best illustrated by AT&T. In a setup that resembled a NASA control centre, they brought to life what it would be like with increased visibility across the business to enable us to make better decisions and lose less time. And next to it was their work with Volvo, a connected fleet of trucks that not only tracks cargo and vehicle performance, but also driving style, driver fatigue and wellbeing. In short, AT&T’s presence went a lot deeper than devices, sensors and connectivity. It showed a vision of the experience of work, empowered by digital tools.
And, IBM brought in an incredible experience with their Watson-powered art installation that slowly pulsated with the entire MWC crowd’s propensity to be interested in a series of keywords.
Purpose becomes more important as we seek to make the world a better place
There was also a sense of ‘tech for good’ floating through the halls. For starters, the GSMA were infusing the whole conference with a sense of mission through their sustainable development goals in partnership with the UN. Elsewhere we had tuk tuks with panic buttons by Indian telco Reliance—for improved safety on India’s roads, coding blocks to help kids learn to code, pay-as-you-go gas for cooking, Swedish company Doro catering for the older demographic so often left behind by technology, as well as the Vodafone Foundation exhibiting their ‘instant classroom’ of curricula, tablets and connectivity. Though purpose wasn’t so much at the core of the conference, it was definitely there, lurking behind the nostalgia, the devices, the technology…
Mobile World Congress is at turns overwhelming, exciting, exhausting and insightful. What is clear now that we’re all back in our studios is that we’re most definitely all working on designing the future.