Mobile World Congress 2016 (MWC) was possibly the best year yet for brands, now that mobile has matured and trends such as VR, wearables, AI, and earables are making new brand experiences possible.
Sci-fi films can be a source of inspiration for future tech that will impact the CMO and the future of customer experience. The rise of sentient AI and robotics in “The Terminator” shows the future of automation and data, for example, while “The Lawnmower Man” introduced the world to VR and, more recently, “Her” showed how our mobile operating system is becoming more human and that mobile equals context.
But who needs sci-fi when you can be immersed in all that is wondrous and new at MWC, one of Europe’s largest tech shows? In its 13th year, it was bigger than ever, with the very apt tagline “Mobile is Everything.”
MWC was a microcosm of how technology is rapidly changing behaviour. This then impacts the world of our customers and the environment and opportunities for the brands we create, iterate, and have involvement in.
This year’s event played host to startups as well as global giants such as Samsung. This being my fourth year of attendance, I have gotten better at finding the hidden gems among the sea of news, new tech, and announcements. So let me guide you through four trends that will impact CMOs as a result of MWC 2016.
Mobile Maturity Is Here: More Mobile Connections Than People On Planet Earth
When mobile first hit the scene, it was about reducing the size of a brick down to a chocolate bar. Now mobile is at the centre of our connected world, acting as our remote control for life and for the relationship we have with brands.
The mobile part of MWC is now showing signs of being fully matured, demonstrated by the iterative enhancements revealed by the major handset manufacturers such as Samsung and LG. The latter won the handset plaudits for its G5 component smartphone, winning the best new device award from event organiser GSMA.
A great example of mobile maturity was on show at the Microsoft stand where the company demonstrated Continuum, a device that connects your mobile to your laptop or desktop allowing you to use your keyboard and monitor for the ultimate mobility solution.
Meanwhile, Samsung was nostalgically talking about the evolution of mobile over time with this great unpacked innovation story video.
Among the wealth of insights and information shared during MWC, one data point will have a seismic impact for you as marketers.
GSMA Intelligence (GSMAI) updated its figures for the number of unique mobile users around the world, and the change is truly remarkable. A year ago, GSMAI reported that there were around 3.65 billion unique mobile users around the world. However, this year’s data revised that global unique user figure to 4.7 billion. This new figure means that global mobile penetration now sits at more than 63% of the world's population—and that includes everyone, from the unbanked to newborn babies and the world's oldest people.
In fact, according to the latest GSMAI data, there are now more mobile connections, 7.7 billion of them, than people on Earth, 7.4 billion. The mobile industry is now valued at $3.1 trillion, or 4.2% of global GDP.
A truly huge data point that should make it abundantly clear that if you are not mobile-first and placing mobile at the heart of your brand, you basically don’t exist.
Listen Out For A New Buzz Word—Earables
The future of the mobile is not going to always be about screen size, sensor, or the phone itself. But it is going to be about mobility.
Why? Well, if you've seen the film “Her,” you'll remember the main character, Joaquin Phoenix Theodore, spent his time with a smart artificial intelligence (AI) assistant via an earpiece.
And so, at MWC I found it inspiring to see Sci-Fi coming to life in front of me at the impressive Sony stand. Taking cues from the film and making life more screenless was the Sony Xperia Ear, launching this summer.
The Ear plays nicely with any Android smartphone, using Google Now or Sony’s own AI tech to inform users about the weather, traffic, news, and their schedule. It is voice powered so people can tell it to make calls, respond to texts/emails, search the Internet, or navigate to a location with the directions delivered directly to your ear. It won’t be long before you can hail an Uber, or order on Amazon via a solution such as this (perhaps we’ll call this one ear-commerce?).
This type of device is sure to begin an interface revolution and change consumer behaviour as we know it, presenting new opportunities for brands to interact and provide value to consumers in new and interesting, almost unthought-of, ways. Earables—you heard it here first!
VR And The Power Of Content, The Power Of Imagery
One event photo is sure to live on for many years—Mark Zuckerberg walking past a sea of journalists immersed in their own virtual world. For me it is the image of the show. It powerfully tells the story of the year’s biggest headline grabber: VR—the world’s biggest niche.
Many MWC visitors this year braved the often long queues to try on and experience for themselves the array of VR experience on offer from the likes of Facebook/Oculus, HTC/Vive, LG 360 VR, and Intel RealSense.
Having sampled many of them, I can say some of them are more virtual than reality, with pixilation, lag, and not being able to see your hands deteriorating the experience. Vive and RealSense were the most impressive. There is a trend for putting more sensors into our devices so that they are more connected to the world around them. For example, Intel was showing off its RealSense and Google Tango-infused mobile phone that knew where it was within a 3D space and was even able to allow for the recognition of a user's hands.
VR is not a new trend, but it is having a big year with high-profile launches from almost all of the big players (where is Apple, one wonders?). Samsung Gear 360 and LG 360 CAM provide brands and consumers with the means to cost-effectively capture VR content. Gear 360, for example, captures video and photos from all 360 degrees, which can then be played back as content via Facebook and YouTube 360. The future of selfies is 360.
All CMOs should try VR for themselves and have a point of view. Those brave enough to be an early adopter and truly use it to solve a business problem should be applauded. One of my favourite VR examples is from Toms Shoes, which uses it for immersive story-telling and transporting the viewer into Peru to gain insights into the brand’s purpose and what it is doing as a brand.
VR is not a mass-market device, yet, it will catch on with the gaming community. But for brand experiences and depending on your brand values and objectives, it is becoming a powerful way to build depth of experience and create a “wow” moment with smaller audiences. And with 360 video adoption from Facebook, Samsung, and YouTube access to these new story-telling formats, it is worth keeping an eye on.
Where Were The Wearables? Wrist-Based Brand Opportunities Become More Niche
Has the wearable bubble burst already? Taking note of what was most talked about this year versus last year on Twitter, the fall of wearables this year was significant for brands, with no new big news aside from a handful of launches such as Under Armour.
Wearables in the enterprise was a rising trend this year, with a great set of smart glasses from Epson called Moverio BT-300 with some interesting use cases such as Drone Piloting.
Although trumpeted as a huge trend last year, CES 2016—Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas—has already provided evidence the wearables revolution was heavy on hype and light on mass adoption. Wearables are going health based, and niche. This year at MWC, what little there was to be seen on wearables was going canine and bovine. The wearable for the cow from Fujitsu provided us with the insight that by tracking the steps of cattle, it aids insemination, as cows walk up to six times more when fertile. You live and learn.
Overextending into a new arena such as wearables without a clear purpose is clearly unwise for brands, but being curious and clear about outcomes is wiser.