The Mobile World Congress 2017: Evolution instead of Revolution – And Not Such a Bad Thing Either

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More than 2,300 exhibitors from 208 countries and over 108,000 visitors (+7%); the organisers are very pleased with another record year. In brief, therefore, the outcome may be summed up as follows: No real surprises and as expected, the most important themes this year were artificial intelligence, combined with voice control services (‘Shy Tech’), Internet of things and ‘smart homes’ – whereby the boundaries are naturally very fluid. On the other hand, every possible virtual and mixed reality experience is pretty much par for the course at the exhibition. The strong presence of connected cars has been a surprise to me and robots made a discreet appearance. However, we will not be talking about any breakthroughs here for a long time yet. In this regard, some of us expected a bit more.

Cars are Increasingly Stealing the Show from Smartphones

The fact that the car is becoming more and more of a ‘mobile device’ was blatantly obvious at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2017. Therefore, it was interesting that all the exhibitors appeared to directly pin this theme, as well as their hopes, onto the new 5G network standard. In all the vehicle presentations, 5G was the most prominent topic and quite clearly what caught the eye of the public. However, although 5G had already been a massive theme at the exhibition the previous year, we must practice a little patience for a while longer, before we can perhaps whizz through mobile Internet in 2020 at tenfold LTE speed. The connected car shall then most certainly – just like other domains (e.g. mobile television) – receive a real boost once more. Many new services have indeed already been developed in this area so far; for example, the ‘in-car payment’ services emerging from the cooperation between Jaguar and Shell. Here, a payment system is directly installed in the car as an app. This really makes sense these days and does not require 5G for a satisfactory user experience.

A further challenge consists of ensuring a rapid network and first-rate services in both directions, meaning content and services being conveyed as seamlessly as possible throughout the user‘s journey. This is because all the new things on offer, whether connected cars, smart home uses or new app services, can only unleash their potential, if they are networked and configured with each other. Therefore, it is no wonder that the race to determine the key user ID began a long time ago. Along with the major tech companies, automobile manufacturers now also have their own ideas about this – e.g. the seat ID on starting up; or they will at least have already let the engines warm up. Time will tell whether this is enough for them to get one step ahead.

Connected Products everywhere

The various networked products on offer were exactly as expected. For example, a whole range was presented by Bosch – from ‘BML050’, a high-precision scanner for interactive laser projection, which can also be installed in toy figures; to the ‘Spin Master Zoomer Chimp’, a toy chimpanzee with lifelike actions. Finally, the smallest of the new technologies must certainly be introduced. Arguably the most important connection currently in the smart homes network is voice-activated access, ideally equipped with intelligent bot systems. It was clear here that Amazon Alexa and Google Home did not want to miss out on this on the market.  Correspondingly, it was possible to discover the first alternative systems at MWC: e.g. NUGU, SONY Agent, or Aristotle Hub by Mattel with Qualcomm-Power, for the networked children’s bedroom of the future. This abundance of new products will revive trade, which will ultimately benefit the user. Decisive for the success of individual devices, however, will mainly be the infrastructure they are networked with, which all the major players particularly avail themselves of: search engines, shopping portals, music libraries and smart home interfaces. Firstly, a voice-activated system can render these platforms powerful.

Virtual Reality: Increasingly Part of the Furniture

This year, VR- and AR headsets surely had one of the most stand-out profiles at the exhibition. In the VR domain, it was new accessories that were mainly presented: wireless systems or the VR glove for an even more immersive experience, like the HTC Vive Tracker, which we had already hotly anticipated. New VR installations on the Samsung stand also tempted visitors, although no longer in droves, as had been the case the previous year. Virtual reality has finally become a reality in 2017. There were no more big surprises.

On the other hand, it was interesting that many exhibitors, e.g. Intel, had integrated the Microsoft HoloLens into their presentation concept. This did not exactly take one’s breath away, but felt consistently appropriate and on point and most certainly gave a final touch to the product presentations.

And Phone Highlights?

Yes indeed, there were of course other hardware novelties too – this theme had indeed faded almost into the background for a few years at MWC and on this occasion again, there were practically no surprises, aside from the Nokia 3310. It was quite absurd, the amount of attention given to this. The retro-mobile phone is rather a peripheral issue. Perhaps, however, it is the fact that manufacturers, whether LG (G6), HUAWEI (P10/plus) or BlackBerry (KeyOne) all actually offer great big beautiful smartphones with more and more amazing cameras. In the end, they all look pretty much the same anyway; although brands seem to primarily lean towards Apple and Co in terms of design. Overall, the devices are of course higher performance: evolution rather than revolution is also the motto here.

Meaningful Evolution

Meanwhile, some journalists and commentators complained that no major innovations made an appearance this year. Yes, that is certainly true and it is of course great fun to report on trailblazing products. However, instead of calling for another new wave of technology, we should take time to assess the existing solutions and marketing possibilities for ourselves as users and if they suit us, to apply them for our own purposes with sense and understanding. As an example, take virtual reality: in the past year, marketable devices were launched for the first time. Users and brands alike very quickly started the ball rolling and each recognised great potential in it. As a result, VR systems are increasingly landing up on the wish lists of technophile customers and correspondingly, ranges are slowly growing. At the same time, many brands have transformed the momentum of the past year into concrete project development and work on the respective products, both in the B-to-B and B-to-C domains. VR projects are frequently cost-intensive and time-consuming. All parties involved are thus responsible for circumventing this by using the available resources.

Great, if the next big thing is not all the rage already.

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