Mobile World Congress (MWC) is the mobile industry’s biggest annual trade show. Falling shortly after CES, which was this year dominated by Amazon Alexa-enabled smart things, MWC is now in its 31st year, bringing together 100,000 attendees to exhibit, innovate, and debate all things mobile.
Apple doesn’t attend officially, and this year Samsung was not announcing anything huge in terms of new wearables or mobiles, which opened the way for the indie players and middle-of-the-field brands to get more exposure for their new trinkets and widgets. But MWC has not been about mobile handsets for a while. Instead, it focuses on the wider mobile ecosystem and how that is transforming our world.
What we saw this year was a hotbed of announcements as we enter the so called Fourth Industrial Revolution, which can be described as a range of new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital, and biological worlds. This is impacting all disciplines, economies, and industries. Examples from the show include driverless cars, AI and machine intelligence, new cryptographic methods such as the blockchain, and physical-digital fused experience powered through new Internet of Things (IoT) and 5G opportunities.
Last year was heavily influenced by IoT and had a bunch of new virtual reality (VR) announcements to sample and be wowed by. But a year on, and these VR devices are yet to become big sellers to ordinary consumers due to pricing. VR remains the biggest niche in the world.
Another year, another MWC. Time to see which trends will impact CMOs both this year and into the future. This year was the year of Nokia’s return, the year of AI announcements, and the year of buzz build-up for 5G.
If you’d heard that Nokia won MWC, you’d be justified in wondering whether it’s 2017 or 2007.
In what appears to be an accidental PR master stroke, it seems that relaunching and re-inventing a much loved 20-year-old phone, in the shape of the 3310, is the height of innovation.
The original Nokia 3310 sold over 125 million models and won hearts and minds with its near limitless battery life and ability to survive being dropped. Even though the press announcement of the 3310 lasted less than five minutes, it created huge spikes in conversation in social media.
When researching conversation around the conference, I had a sense of déjà vu when I saw that Nokia was the most talked about brand at the conference for the first few days. Brandwatch has Nokia down for 8% of the MWC social media conversation. The dumb phone is back, at least as a novelty present!
Nokia also talked a great game when it comes to 5G, mHealth, and Cloud computing. However, people will likely just remember the 3310 announcement.
For CMOs, the nostalgia trend also shows that solving genuine problems is the way to go. Perhaps, the 3310 will inspire other handset brands to fix some of the existing problems, such as battery life and durability, with their future launches.
Handsets Place Safe Bets
There was a plethora of Android phones and tablets launched from Alcatel, BlackBerry, Huawei, Nokia/HMD Global, Lenovo, HTC, LG, Motorola, Sony, Samsung, and ZTE—a veritable A to Z of new mobiles. Clearly evidenced were device trends such as waterproofing, edge-to-edge bezel-less or “infinity” screens, better processors, better battery life, and better cameras.
Waterproofing on the LG G6 and Sony ZX Premium is now IP68 rated, which means the devices can survive a swim in up to 1.5 metres of water for up to 30 minutes without sustaining damage. And this feature doesn’t even get mentioned as waterproofing is a given now on a top-end phone.
Overall there were many more safe small bets made in terms of hardware iteration this year versus previous. Lots of shiny black rectangles with shiny new specifications.
Wearables Pause For Breath
In the wearables space, there have been many big and small launches at MWC over the last few years, but this year was a sign that this nascent sector was pausing for breath.
Whilst Apple seems to have once again jumped on top of an existing market with a beautiful device that marries software and hardware excellence with fitness and fashion, this show had slim pickings by way of new wearables on display, with just a few to ogle such as the Huawei Watch 2 and the LG Watch Sport. The wearables space is definitely taking a breather, and it will be interesting to see if this space doesn’t stay niche until screen technology gets bendy.
AI Is The New UI
The future of mobile is a wondrous question. The theme of this year’s MWC was “The Next Element,” and it once again showcased exciting new tech developments encompassing the entire mobile ecosystem and beyond. And I wonder, based on announcements and evidence at this show, plus CES, whether the “next element” is artificial intelligence, machine learning, and deep learning lumped into one mega trend: AI.
AI is going to transform the intelligence of the experiences we have with brands. It will change how we move around, and the job market. Examples from the show include:
- The world’s first driverless race car unveiled at MWC, the autonomous Robocar, manufactured by Roborace, is a driverless AI-controlled electric car capable of 320 kph.
- Telefónica launched AURA—this AI cognitive intelligence enables users to manage their digital experiences with the company and control the data generated by using Telefónica’s products and services in a transparent way.
- Even Olay launched a selfie and AI-powered digital solution that helps women with their skin.
The reality of a talking toaster is becoming closer.
There was a tsunami of 5G announcements at MWC this year from the likes of AT&T, Verizon, Nokia, and Samsung aiming to turn the hype into a reality (albeit one still on the horizon) in the next three years.
It’s easy to see why 5G gets the industry’s heart racing. The leap from 3G to 4G networks, with a top (theoretical) speed of 100 Mbps, was huge. But when compared to 5G, the leap is more like a baby step, as 5G will provide a minimum of 20 Gbps and be able to connect 1 million devices within a square kilometre. However, the roll-out of 5G is going to take quite some time, with a prediction from the event organiser GSMA that 1 billion connections will not be made until 2025.
Qualcomm and Intel announced chips capable of gigabit speeds, and, given the investment in 4G by carriers, a 4.5G standard capable of 1 Gbps (gigabit) is being thought of as more viable in the near term. The first 5G phone is likely one year away, whilst Samsung announced a 5G home router and radio, but with no launch date. Needless to say, 5G will help create more opportunities to solve customer problems for brands.
Amid all the technology announcements and white noise around MWC, the main lesson for CMOs is that they should begin with solving for genuine customer or business problems first, and use technology to help. Don’t start with the shiny tech first and then try applying it to marketing challenges.