Jane Ngai

MWC Shanghai: Virtual reality, gaming, and the future age of digitisation and mobility

Asia’s largest mobile industry event, Mobile World Congress (MWC) Shanghai, took place in June, and was the biggest yet with over 53,000 participants! The three-day event, which attracted executives from the top companies in mobile and internet, as well as technology-savvy consumers, focused on how mobile technology is revolutionising all aspects of people’s lives and creating personalised experiences. Under the theme of “Mobile and Me”, major forums looked at topics such as virtual reality, wearable tech, connected cars, the Internet of Things and smarter cities.

I had the privilege of moderating two panels at the event, which took place in both English and Chinese, making it a very multi-cultural exchange of ideas.

Virtual reality and gaming

Our first panel session looked at how VR might change the world of gaming. On the panel was; Brett Sun, head of China partnerships, Gaming, Google and Arthur van Hoff, CTO and co-founder of virtual reality travel experience company Jaunt, as well as Tai Zhang, founder of Tai Games, a mainland China gaming start-up.

The panel was overall optimistic about VR, but agreed that more time is need for people to become comfortable using it and for it to turn truly mainstream. One of the pain points currently is that the interaction experience isn’t as mature as the viewing experience. While there are tools out there that allow people to experience VR first hand, a fully immersive virtual reality experience is only achievable if you visit events.

While many industries are dipping their toes into the VR pool already – such as real estate and adult entertainment – there was a unanimous feeling that gaming will be leading the way in making VR go mainstream. There were split opinions, however, on whether or not there will be a strong distinction between dedicated VR console gaming and mobile gaming. Some think these will converge eventually, while others were of the view that they will remain as parallel tracks.

One thing they did agree on though; content cannot simply be “transferred” from current versions to VR. As we highlighted in our 2016 Trends report, companies will need to stop thinking about virtual reality as a new platform, and a whole new way of storytelling needs to be considered.

4YFN (4 Years From Now) – The Future Age of Digitisation and Mobility

Our second session focused on start-ups, with the panel consisting of Dan Wong, CEO of Rokid, Terry Hsiao, CEO of Hook Mobile, Kenneth Palacios, VP of PayMaya and Daniel Chun, GM and Executive VP of Market Innovations for Remotec.

mwc shanghai

It was interesting to hear from both Rokid and Hook Mobile about their ventures into living services; Rokid are in the process of building a smart home AI system that adapts to the behaviour and preferences of the various family members. As part of this, they’re working on a ‘voice fingerprint’ technology which will identify different voices and learn the preferences of whoever made the command. For example, the mother might give the command to ‘play music’ and her favourite radio station will come on, while when her younger son gives the same command, his favourite band’s tunes will fill the room.

Hook Mobile on the other hand, are working on a glucose tracking system for diabetes. The person would take a blood sample, records the data straight to his or her mobile phone, which is then tracked through an app while simultaneously being connected to hospitals’ systems. Their vision is that through data and analytics they’ll be able to help people monitor their health and provide recommendations on how to improve their health – shifting healthcare from reactive to predictive.

Another hot topic among our panellists were the disappearing of apps – which also was one of Fjord’s Trends of 2016. They argued that for certain tasks, in future, the voice will be a more natural way to interact with technology than on-screen user interfaces. As voice technologies and AI become more mature, their use will feel more natural to people – and even seniors will be adopting this. At this point we’ll start to see less and less apps on the market.

One of the biggest challenges these days is the current lack of standardization, which makes it difficult to bridge old and new technology and products. For example, at present, users have problems switching to new smart home systems because of the effort involved in making old products compatible to new products. However, once the market and environment are ready to embrace this new way of living, we will start to see a shift in smart technology across the board.

As part of MWC Shanghai, we also held a series of service design sharing sessions in which three main challenges in an increasingly mobile world were identified.

MWC Shanghai certainly provided an interesting couple of days with lots of food for thought. It was clear from both panels that all the entrepreneurs, followed our principles when it came do design; don’t be afraid to fail and focus on the end users.

Jane Ngai

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