This week, alongside a few other members of the Maxus Global team, I was fortunate enough to visit Barcelona’s Fira Gran, and pace its cavernous halls in search of the latest advances in mobile technology, at Mobile World Congress 2017. Below I’ve summarised some of the most interesting and exciting tech trends coming out of this year’s event. If you’re remotely interested in robots or 17 year old mobile phones then please read on!
Battle of the Smartphones: Is Alcatel the only brand driving innovation in the category?
With incremental improvement seemingly the name of the game in the smartphone category this year, we thought to ourselves, where’s all the innovation!? Step forward, Alcatel. I might be over egging this slightly as their latest model, the Alcatel A5 doesn’t really deliver against the expected metrics like camera quality or processor speed. What it does have is a series of LED lights on the back that light up for notifications and act as an equaliser when you play music and are just generally great fun. Maxus’ Head of Planning Nick Vale described it as the ‘best use of that blank space on the back of a phone’ he’d ever seen. Being truthful, this was more gimmicky than revolutionary but interesting to see a brand try and differentiate itself so uniquely in the market, clearly trying to appeal to a much younger audience.
We were able to spend a good amount of time exploring the plethora of stands in the enormous Hall 3 which was almost entirely dedicated to the mobile handset manufacturers. Bar Apple (who keep their nose clear of industry trade fairs), all of the faces you’d expect to see were there. The big news dominating the headlines ahead of MWC was that Samsung were postponing the launch of the Galaxy S8. Without any headline grabbing news, the Samsung stand focussed mainly on its ecosystem of products such as the Gear S3 smartwatch and VR headset plus tablets and TVs.
Naturally, we were particularly interested in Huawei’s much anticipated launch of the latest in their flagship P Series, the P10. Our team attended the launch event on Sunday where CEO Richard Yu waxed lyrical about the continued partnership with Leica in producing the phone’s dual cameras, and the new partnership with Pantone who had produced a series of eight exciting colours which the phone comes in. The Huawei consumer stand reflected these partnerships fantastically, as well as additional ones with London University, Central St Martin’s and designer, Ricostru. It really gave the Huawei stand a unique feel, embedding the brand in the culture of fashion and design.
LG made a big splash with the launch of their new smartphone G6 on Sunday. The biggest claim at their stand was that it was “the big screen that actually fits in your hand” which wasn’t a hugely exciting or indeed unique one. We had a little play with one and it’s a nifty Android device but probably nothing to write home about. We stopped by the Sony and Lenovo stands who had launches for their Xperia and Moto brands respectively, but without any big flashy new features or innovations we were relatively nonplussed.
Any review of the phone releases at MWC 2017 would be incomplete and frankly misguided without a mention of Nokia’s bizarre release of the much loved 3310. With so much buzz around this basic feature phone release, naturally we could barely get past the nostalgia crazed crowds to get a look at it. I don’t want to say that once we got one in our hands it was underwhelming, but well…it was. It did come in some pretty good colours and playing snake was fun for a few minutes. Whilst we might sneer at the simplicity of the 3310 and other feature phones, it is worth us considering for a second the very important role they still play around the world. In 2017, feature phones are still expected to sell around 850m units globally. In some parts of the developing world, where regular access to electricity at a reasonable cost isn’t guaranteed, a phone with a battery life of a month which only needs a 2G connection serves an invaluable purpose and will most likely continue to do so for a good deal of time to come.
Augmented Reality: It’s back and better than ever!
Well, kind of. As we all know, it’s been around for a fair while now and until interest was resurrected in catching furry Japanese cartoons last year with Pokémon Go, AR didn’t have much of a consumer facing purpose. It all felt more gimmicky than actually useful. At MWC this year we met a fair few start-ups that aimed to provide a number of practical uses for the technology. A group funded by Samsung have created what is to be Google Glass 2.0 and perhaps the future of remote working. Whilst still just a prototype, the company have created a headset that enables users to project their computer screen into the foreground of their vision. The wifi-enabled headset connects to their computer and can be accessed from anywhere in the world. So forget bringing that hefty laptop to client meetings. Just pack your headset and a mouse (And maybe a keyboard if you want to actually get anything done). We came across another interesting AR proposition which, accessed by a mobile phone, enabled users to place virtual objects into the world around them. The example they showed us involved placing items of furniture onto the ground around us building up a virtual living room. The hugely practical application of this could be for brands without retail space creating virtual showrooms in public spaces. Watch this (virtual) space!
What if the Amazon Echo had a love child with a Dalek?
It would probably looks a lot like Sony’s Xperia Agent. Although still a prototype, Sony have been developing the Agent which boasts a projector, a rotating camera, speakers and even a pair of eyes (for added anthropomorphism). If giving Amazon access to your private conversations via the Echo placed in the heart of your home doesn’t concern you, surely a device with a camera and shifty eyes will. Sony haven’t tried hard to allay those fears by naming it the ‘Agent’ either. Putting my paranoia to one side, the advancement in artificially intelligent smart devices has the potential to have a major impact on the way we live. The Xperia Agent will allow users via voice commands to control other smart connected devices in the home such as their phone, the heating, the locks, and even the oven. It can also recognise your voice and so when you walk into the house it can turn on the lights to the settings you prefer.
You may not have seen Japanese company Sharp do anything for while (The last time I saw them was on the front of a Man United shirt in the 90s). Bizarrely, they’ve recently created a little bipedal robot called RoBoHon who is an 8 inch tall Smartphone. He has a touch screen on his back and a face on the front. He can walk, talk and dance and is almost entirely voice controlled, which are all the things you’ve been crying out for from your phone I’m sure. Practically, I can’t see this taking off in the near future given that the little chap doesn’t even fit inside your pocket, but it is an interesting demonstration of how else we can access the full functionality of our phones in a more detached, hands free way.
Here comes 5G. “But I haven’t got 4G yet!” I hear you say.
Whilst the infrastructure for delivering 5G is still 4 years (or more) away for most countries, the implications of this ultra-fast network look to have massive implications for our society. With this importance in mind, MWC had a huge area dedicated to demonstrating 5Gs efficacy and so we got right stuck in and tested it out. Nokia showed us an example using a virtual reality game in which I was inside a giant dome, and using a light-sabre I had to swipe away blocks flying at me. I played the game at both 4G and 5G speeds which aimed to demonstrate the necessity for faster speeds, minimising the latency effect, optimising the whole experience. Interesting but not mind blowing. More amazing was the potential impact 5G will have on our transport system, as demonstrated by Ford, where in their vision of the future, every autonomous vehicle will be able to communicate with one another and react almost instantly to hazards, creating a far safer and much more efficient system. Imagine a commute with no traffic jams because routes are optimised. One with no accidents because the unpredictability and delayed reaction-time of humans is eliminated. You’ve just imagined the future. Maybe. In some places.
After a busy 3 days of networking with media suppliers, catching up with our clients and exploring what MWC had to offer we were well and truly exhausted. Experiencing the daring advancements being made by big brands and entrepreneurs alike, we’ve left MWC with a real buzz, feeling inspired to take the brands we work on forward, embracing the changes to come. Echoing our Maxus values, these folk are truly leading change, imagining a brave new world for us all.