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

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.

Mobile World Congress 2017 – Barcelona calling.

As digital specialists we get to work in an exciting environment. New, technology-driven topics are part of everyday life for us. Trade fairs like CES, MWC etc. are a Mecca for innovation. For what’s important. For relentless progress. The most important event on the calendar for all mobile technology enthusiasts kicks off once more today with the Mobile World Congress (MWC). Just like last year I will rush through the halls – searching for new ideas, the most exotic, exciting gadgets, system solutions and digital products as well as, of course, interesting discussions. Face-to-face and fully analogue.

I am expecting that the MWC will focus on the following five trends:

  • Chatbots and Artificial Intelligence
  • Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality
  • Internet of Things and Smart Homes
  • Shy Techs
  • Robots

Many of these topics featured prominently at the trade fair last year too. What will be exciting is to see where the technologies are heading in the future – and when they will become commonplace in our everyday lives.

1) Chatbots and Artificial Intelligence

Chatbots are an exciting example of how a rather minor trend topic – since such a simple bot is ultimately constructed relatively quickly – develops into something of much greater relevance. Chatbots fulfil the wishes of consumers to quickly and easily access information that is tailored precisely to their personal needs and is available whenever and wherever. However, the simple interface alone will by no means be enough. The systems only become powerful when the accuracy of the responses is optimised by CRM, product and other database connections. A chatbot has to be able to address communication histories with the customer and learn constantly. It will be exciting to see which system solutions will be offered at MWC and which environments will be used to demonstrate chatbots. A social media messenger is ultimately just one of many possible applications.

2) Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality

It is really overwhelming to see the hardware that has been launched on the market in this field over the past year. Virtual reality became reality in 2016. New gadgets have spurred our imagination and given us a foretaste of the future. No question. These exciting times are set to continue with providers like Samsung having already announced many new developments that are to be presented at MWC. Sensational opportunities are waiting to be discovered in selected areas. But even if companies like Oculus, HTC etc. are recording increased sales in the area of True, that is to say fully immersive, VR, really wide-scale availability is not yet achievable. It is the brand stagings at the POS or at trade fairs that are the most exciting at present from a marketing perspective. In terms of certain aspects anyhow.
Augmented reality has also not made the major breakthrough as yet. Even if this was promised by so many owing to a short-lived but fierce battle with Pokémon Go. Most players had probably not activated the camera anyway when playing. And HoloLens also is primarily a great problem solver for a couple of individual application scenarios – for example in the framework of training measures. The focus at the moment though is still on “one-offs”.
However, I am really excited to see whether a real augmented reality breakthrough can be achieved here at MWC (or at an upcoming Apple Keynote?). The usability of these functions from a system perspective can all of a sudden provide the breakthrough in terms of real availability and exciting services. In a time when basically all information is already provided with a spatial coordinate, this information can also be linked with the camera function. Additional information on locations, on a person you are talking to or individual products as basic features – now that would be something!

3) Internet of Things & Smart Homes

No question. Anything that can be wired will be wired. CES and MWC will also compete in this sense for the most amazing products. But what else is left other than to wire hairbrushes? All will be revealed… With all of this absurdity, however, we should not forget that there are definitely exciting applications in the area of home automation. There’s no going back once the wireless speakers are established in your living room. And if you’re not sure if you switched off the lights, the oven or the hob, a quick look at the smart home app will ease your mind. Whether or not you are already signed up for all of this: just say you notice that toilet paper stocks are running low and can order supplies on the spot, then the entire household will benefit. These functions and others will increasingly – and, quite understandably – find their way into our homes.

4) Shy Techs

At the end of the day, most people simply want an easier working environment and a seamless living environment. This is the case even if they are not technology nerds. The term Shy Tech seems to aptly describe such people. No keyboards, not even monitors are absolutely necessary to control functions or retrieve information. Amazon has taken an initial giant step in this direction with “Echo”. Google Home is set to follow and Apple is planning to continue developing Siri, probably more likely with the iPhone as hardware than with its own loudspeaker. Great, if everything works smoothly. An army of clever bots will support us comprehensively.
At this point at the latest, a little reflection is always needed: where will the data actually be stored, where can I find information about this? Can the practice of law really keep up if product development is entering new grey areas or completely uncharted waters every day? Developing ideas and content for these systems is certainly the right thing to do. But maybe we should start off with cookery recipes and not immediately have medical records read aloud to us by these voice control systems. In any case, I am expecting to see every conceivable application at MWC. It will be interesting!

5) Robots

If Alexa and Siri learn to walk in the course of the digital evolution then robots will probably be the final outcome. Already last year you could use a smartphone to roll small robotic balls through an empty apartment and use integrated cameras to keep an eye on the apartment even from the café or play with the cat. Smartphone-based control is likely to stay, but the robots inside the rolling balls will probably unveil themselves as fully-fledged robots for use in the home. I am very excited to see what innovations will emerge in this area. Maybe I’ll meet “Kuri”, the small Bosch robot, or one of its fellow species. Apart from the quite legitimate question that Bill Gates recently asked as to whether taxes would not have to be levied on commercially used robots in the future to compensate for any impending decline in revenues from income tax, robots will probably become established somewhat slowly in our private everyday lives.
After all, I still prefer it when I can ask a human for directions in the shopping centre as opposed to a robot. And I am not alone in this. That’s why we have to take a step back from all of the euphoria that surrounds trade fairs like MWC. Our goal is to support our customers optimally in ensuring they are successful and equipped for the future. We keep an eye on all trends, analyse, make recommendations and advise. It’s not about being the fastest at implementing new technologies, rather finding the best and most suitable solution for the customer. Even if this sometimes means initially forsaking the latest hype.

More information and pictures from the Mobile World Congress can be found on Tumblr: sp-url.com/correspondent

Why mobile programmatic does not yet use its full potential

The mobile Internet booms in Germany, both in terms of users and traffic. Even shopping on a smart phone is becoming more popular. At the same time, programmatic advertising has established itself as a fixed value, at least in online media business. As a consequence of both developments, mobile programmatic would therefore have to be a big hit. But the advertising volumes in this segment – beyond the silos of Facebook and Google – do not grow to the extent which one would expect. Why is it that mobile programmatic advertising does not yet use its full potential in Germany?

When we talk about mobile advertising today, we mean primarily in-app advertising with formats such as banners and video ads, all the way to full-screen interstitials. Three out of four advertising dollars are presently spent with apps. Apart from the fact that there are significantly different and fewer web formats in apps than on the desktop and the use of data on Apple devices is made difficult by the lack of cookie acceptance, in terms of programmatic possibilities, the mobile web works in a very similar wayto the web that we access on the desktop computer.

German marketers have overslept the topic

And indeed, mobile apps have already experienced a boost through programmatic advertising: before the era of DSP and SSP, coverage could only be booked via aggregators. A third-party control via the agency’s or client’s ad server was not possible. Due to the advertising ID from apps today, a very stable identifier is available which permits a longer-lasting profiling than a browser cookie. Via programmatic advertising, an advertising client can control his campaign, targeting these profiles for the first time in an app-encompassing way.

And there is another important advantage: data providers make data available that permit new and effective campaign approaches, especially in the area of hyper-local targeting – to address potential customers in close proximity, directly and accurately.

So why the hesitation? German marketers of quality apps have slept through the topic of programmatic advertising. They are only slowly making their coverages for in-app advertising reasonably programmatically usable – because this includes more than simply adjusting the app to the supply-side platform. This carelessness means that large parts of the programmatically available offer of mobile advertising in Germany still consists of opaque ranges of international marketplaces.

Not the technology, but the advertising formats are the obstacle

And in the “Global Exchanges” there are considerable deficits concerning transparency and technical control. The consequence: AdFraud – traffic which is generated, not by human users, but by so-called bots – is a significant problem for mobile in-app advertising, both in terms of reach and data, and thus represents an obstacle to growth for the industry as a whole.

With the extensive possibilities of programmatic advertising, mobile advertising also becomes easier to book and to control in a targeted fashion. But programmatic, too, cannot solve a central problem which advertising on smart phones generally still has: there is still the lack of large-scale, attractive advertising formats which are indeed eye-catching, but still do not annoy the users. If we can cope better with this challenge, the boom will be yet to come for mobile advertising.

Facebook Messenger chatbots: a communication channel for brands?

For six months, chatbots have existed in Facebook Messenger and there are now more than 30,000 available for users. The initial hype has calmed down and now companies are wondering if bots actually have the potential to become relevant communication and distribution channels for their content.

All chatbots essentially work in the same way. Users ask the bot a question and the bot searches through its stored database in accordance with certain rules, in order to respond with a suitable answer. The greater the database, the greater the knowledge which the chatbot can revert back to.

Mobile driven user behaviour and technical developments smooth the way

The requirements needed for the success of chatbots certainly exist: On one hand, internet usage is extending increasingly to mobile devices and here communication occurs primarily through instant messengers. The approach to text messaging has finally become seen as an everyday matter and the users have got accustomed to this reduced communication form.

On the other hand, all major tech companies are investing massively in the development of artificial intelligence, machine learning and in the understanding and processing of natural language through algorithms. Bot providers can relatively easily incorporate offers and services of interested companies into chatbots via standardised interfaces.

Unpredictable human communication

It will remain some time before a conversation with a chatbot is indistinguishable from a talk with a real person, as many chatbots currently reach the limits of their communication rather quickly. Either they fail in the correct processing of human communication, including all unpredictable factors such as slang, dialect or typos, or their repertoire of responses is rapidly used up. Initial reactions of early adopters were sobering. Among other factors, this was due to the fact that Facebook opened the chatbot platform for developers only a few weeks before the official launch.

Facebooks vice president of messaging products, Davis Marcus, admitted that this time frame was possibly too short to develop a good chatbot. Since the launch, Facebook has made many APIs and much guidance available to developers. We can therefore look forward to seeing how the second generation of bots will turn out.

For long term success, however, two central requirements must be fulfilled, above all:

Discovery: There is currently no easy way to find chatbots for Facebook Messenger, as we are still waiting for the launch of the announced bot store. The user must therefore know the name of the bot and integrate it via the search function of Messenger. Other messengers like Kik, Telegram or Skype already offer overview catalogues.

Added value: So that users don’t delete a chatbot after trying it out just once, from the first use on, the bot must offer real added value. This can include various aspects:

  • Reducing complexity and information: shopping bots, such as Tommy Hilfiger’s chatbot, help users when looking for suitable products, by giving them a pre-selection of products through targeted questions. The added value of news bots like the one of CNN also depends upon a reduction in information. Users indicate which content they are interested in and then receive suitable contributions in return through push messages.
  • Time efficiency and problem solving: The airline KLM emphasises special service for their customers: if you want to change your seating place, for example, you don’t need to open the app. You can simply send a quick message to the KLM bot.
  • Additional offers: In several US cities, through the Absolut Vodka chatbot, users can find bars in which the product is available. The added value here is that the user receives a voucher for a free drink as well.

If these points are further optimised in the new generation of chatbots and the problem of discovering bots is resolved, there is much to suggest that these services will establish themselves as communication channels for brands. With a sufficient amount of offers, in Europe and in North America Facebook Messeger could become a mobile central service point for users, just as weChat, LINE and Kik have done in many Asian markets.

The story of Beacons

Following an afternoon full of presentations and panels concerning the Bluetooth Low Energy technology at the 3rd Beacon Summit at our head offices in Munich, I got into a discussion with two other attendees. It was clear that all of us understood how this technology works: A small sender (Beacon) sends out a signal that almost any mobile device can read/detect. If your mobile device has Bluetooth activated and is within about 30 meters of the sender, it can read/detect the signal. If you have the right app, the signal can be interpreted and used to identify where you are and send you messages.

It is a very simple and fairly robust technology that anyone can use. Many companies have already stepped into the Beacon market and even Apple, Facebook and Google are investing heavily. A lot of people are investing a lot of money, a lot of time and waging their businesses and quality of life on this technology.

So what can you do with it? Well, there are a couple of standard showcase ideas. Indoor Navigation and Retail Push are the most common scenarios. Say you arrive at the airport and need to go to gate G49. You have no idea where that is, but by using Beacons, your location and the location of the gate are known and our app can easily get you from where you are to where you want to go. The same basic idea with a twist accounts for the other scenario: You enter a retail store and instantly get a notification on your mobile device telling you that the blue jeans are on offer. The jeans are located right next to you, on your right. – And here’s a 5€ coupon to sweeten the deal.

After two minutes of polite small talk, my fellow attendees and I got into an interesting discussion: Are indoor navigation and retail coupons that interesting? And if it works that well, why isn’t it already everywhere?

Sometimes we tend to geek out about the possibilities and forget the actual use case. We wait for a technology to solve our problems, missing the fact that our problems might actually just be the symptoms of a larger one.

Say you are a retailer. You sell jeans. You want people to buy more jeans. If your solution is to point your customers to the exact jeans you want to sell, give them a 5€ discount, lean back and wait to see your sales numbers soar, you have a bigger problem.

Why we buy stuff is simple: Maslow’s hierarchy tells us we have needs concerning physiology, safety, love/belonging, esteem and self-actualization in that order.

How we choose what to buy falls in those just-to-the-right-of–the-middle categories. We buy stuff to find and signalize belonging and to gain esteem from our peers and ourselves. So we don’t (just) buy jeans because we wouldn’t survive the winter without them, but also because we would become outcasts and lose our self-respect if we went to work without them.

What exact kind of jeans we choose doesn’t really matter on the account of needs. Of course if you produce jeans and want to increase your sales, it matters to you. But not to me. I just want to show up at work wearing jeans.

However, telling a great story will help move my opinion from one product to another. And that will change my attitude. People stand in line for days to get the latest iPhone but complain if there’s more than five people in front of them at the supermarket. Why? Because the story of the iPhone is better than that of Broccoli*.

So instead of just offering me a 5€ discount, tell me the story of your product. Let me know where I fit into that story and what my role is. Engage with me on an emotional level. And before you go buying Beacons because it’s the Next Big Thing, take a step back and answer these questions first: What kind of story do we want to tell, and what technology might help us tell it in a way that is relevant for the end customer? How do we engage with our customers, take them by their hand and start telling a story together?

Beacons might be a vital part of the solution, but don’t expect the technology to deliver the sales by itself. The story is more important than a technological framework. And if you need help with figuring out exactly what the story should be, how to tell it or what technology fits in where, I know a great agency for that!

*Actually, the man-made(!) vegetable Broccoli has an extremely interesting history. So maybe Broccoli has to have a talk with it’s advertising agency about telling the story in a better way?