Posted By Simon Montford on March 8, 2016
Mobile World Congress took place in Barcelona from the 22nd-25th February 2016. It is the world’s largest gathering for the mobile industry, and I was there to cover the show. In my opinion, the most significant trends this year were 5G, 2-in-1s, faster SOCs from Intel and Qualcomm, Virtual Reality, Artificial Intelligence, and the Internet of Things. In addition to a more detailed explanation of these trends, as well as my other key takeaways, I'll also give you a few of my survival tips - particularly useful for the uninitiated!
I'll start with a few personal tips for any first timers reading this, who plan to attend MWC 2017. If I were you, I'd hit the gym immediately after Christmas, and train for it like it's an Olympic sport! I wore my Jawbone fitness tracker at all times throughout the show, and was surprised to see that I somehow survived on an average of only around 3-4hrs sleep per night, and walked the equivalent distance of a marathon! I was physically exhausted, and emotionally drained for several days after returning to the UK. Maybe best to plan for at least a couple of vacation days upon returning for some well deserved R&R.
Pack comfortable clothes, as well as shoes that are both business casual and comfortable. Schedule meetings in advance, but be prepared for a constantly fluid situation as soon as you hit the ground, as all hell will probably break loose upon arrival - the intensity upon entering the Gran Via can be an assault on the senses for the uninitiated. As Mike Tyson famously said "everyone has a plan until they get hit in the mouth", just for the record I mean this metaphorically! The exhibition floor is gargantuan, so making sense of the complex floor plan takes time, as does getting your bearings. The aforementioned will not apply to the same extent to everyone, especially those that are tethered to a trade stand for the duration of the show. In my case I was there to undertake biz dev activities for a plucky little tech startup called Nautilus Beam (text input for smartwatches). The majority of my days were taken up attending impromptu meetings, which often involved sprinting from one end of the convention centre to the other, at a moment's notice. This, and all the after-partying, was why I became totally spent when I returned to the UK. If you want a great workout, MWC is the place to go! Business and workout activities aside, MWC is one of the best places on the planet to check out the very latest mobile tech, and here are my takeaways from this year's show.
5G could become a reality sooner than everyone thought possible
It’s hoped that the next generation of wireless networks, which promise to achieve speeds of at least x10 faster than LTE may become a reality by 2018! Of course, deploying the 5G network across the UK will take time, so don't expect 5G to arrive in your neighbourhood any time soon, especially if you live in a remote location. Many regions throughout the country still suffer from poor 3G/4G coverage, and pathetically slow broadband speed, so probably best not to get too excited just yet. When it does finally arrive it will be a game-changer. With only one millisecond latency and gigabit data rates, expect everything and everyone to become super-connected. Combine 5G with connected A.I. and things will start to get very exciting indeed!
Sleek and powerful 2-in-1 devices are gaining popularity
The "two in one category", which is effectively a laptop and tablet combined, aims to provide the convenience of a touch screen combined with the practicality of a keyboard. Due to their form factor, previous generations, although lighter and thinner than a laptop, lacked performance and battery life. The new generation, thanks to recently upgraded SOCs from Intel and Qualcomm, have no such limitations. Although the Surface Pro 4, iPad Pro, and Alcatel Plus 10 are all excellent devices, the highlight of the show was Huawei's unveiling of the new MateBook. Based on price and features, it makes for a very compelling alternative to the aforementioned, add desirability into the mix and I'd put it in pole position. The only downside, which for me is a major issue, is that it only runs Windows 10. As I'm a huge fan of Android, that's a deal breaker.
Faster, more energy efficient Systems On a Chip
The latest generation of Systems on a Chip (SOC) from Intel and Qualcomm; the Intel Atom Z3580 and Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 are super fast, and far more energy efficient compared to previous chips. All kinds of devices from smartphones to phablets, tablets and 2-in-1's will perform better and last longer. Even drones will benefit!
Virtual SIMs will allow devices to roam freely
Virtual SIMs will replace physical ones, so everything will take place in the cloud, allowing all your devices to seamlessly switch from network to network, so you always obtain the fastest and most reliable connection, regardless of operator or geographic territory. To read more about virtual SIMs check out one of my previous posts "Smartphones Reigned in Spain, but the IoT will Steal their Crown".
Motorola shames the competition by producing an indestructible phone
Motorola demoed their new X Force smartphone, which boasts both an unbreakable screen, as well as waterproof capabilities. Okay, my claims of indestructibility may be overstated, but I witnessed the phone being dropped from a considerable height face down onto concrete and granite. It was then submerged under a foot of water, and it survived unscathed. Although the Samsung S7 is waterproof, it doesn't compare in terms of build quality. Ruggedised devices, aimed at the industrial and military sector, have been around for a while, but they come with either a hefty price tag or reduced capabilities, making the X Force unique. If you opt for one, you'll get a very reasonably priced, off-the-shelf device, which would (probably) feel at home on a construction site, or be utilised in combat! Why aren't other OEMs able to offer this robust build quality as a standard - Apple et al please take note!
Project Tango will enable anyone to create a digital rendition of a 3D object or of their surroundings
Google's Project Tango and Lenovo are partnering to create the world's first smartphone powered by Project Tango technology. The company showed off their device during MWC, which allows users to scan objects, and even entire rooms. By creating a "digital twin" of an object, landscape, or room, all kinds of industries will become revolutionised. Examples include architects, interior decorators, and estate agents - all of them could scan and send detailed 3D plans of a building's interior or exterior in minutes. The ability to scan 3D objects will also transform the repair and maintenance industry. Imagine needing to repair or replace a faulty part, simply scan it and email it to a repair engineer who could immediately check out the fault.
Smartphone screens will become redundant, replaced by virtual screens and pico projectors
Why carry around a little OLED screen in your pocket or bag, when you can conjure up a virtual keyboard and screen using a wearable device, or use a pico projector to beam a display of almost any size onto almost any surface. I predict that Pico projectors will become standard on almost every next generation tablet, phablet, laptop and 2-in-1.
The PIN will soon be history, replaced by biometrics, facial recognition and finger tip scanners
Entering a PIN number on your smartphone will soon become a thing of the past, thank goodness! Finger tip scanners are appearing on the backs of smartphones. In addition, facial recognition and even your own heartbeat will be used as safe and secure alternatives to the humble PIN.
Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality are going to be huge!
There was a lot of buzz around VR, AR and 360 cameras. Mark Zuckerberg even made a surprise appearance as a keynote speaker at Samsung's product launch. In fact almost every major OEM unveiled a 360 camera and a Virtual Reality headset. LG proudly flaunted their new 360 Cam and 360 VR, while Samsung showed off their Gear 360 and Gear VR devices. Even good old Nokia got in on the act by developing a revolutionary new 360 camera, called the Ozo. Costing considerably more than the others, Nokia is clearly aiming it at professional movie makers.
A.I. will make robots, vehicles, and drones super intelligent and fully autonomous
Combing Artificial Intelligence with 5G is going to be game changing. IBM demonstrated how a robot, when connected to their cloud-based supercomputer called Watson, could undertake a natural conversation with a human. Although there were quite a few noticeable pauses throughout the conversation, this won't be an issue once 5G is deployed, because in addition to super fast connectivity, it will also offer very low latency. This will mean that all kinds of connected devices such as robots, vehicles and drones will become super intelligent and fully autonomous.
Smart Materials like Graphene will revolutionise battery and screen technology
Graphene will revolutionise display and battery technology, because it is not only one atom thick, but also an excellent conductor. This means it is ideal for super thin, flexible and power-efficient screens. It can also be used to retain charge, so is an ideal battery component. A graphene battery charger will soon be capable of reaching full capacity within only a few minutes. One Chinese company called Oppo revealed a device at MWC that could be fully charged within only 15 minutes, although the technology used was kept under wraps. Another technology worth a mention, that could be used to charge devices on the go, are Hydrogen Fuel Cells. Although they have the potential to provide up to a week's worth of power, the downside is that they must be disposed of once fully discharged.
Photovoltaic, screens that convert light into energy, will transform wearables
Photovoltaic screens are ideal on small screen devices such as smartwatches, because they harvest light and convert it into electricity. Unlike smartphones that tend to reside inside pockets or bags, wearables remain exposed, meaning that they can harvest light throughout the day, resulting in extended battery life.
The Internet of Things is gaining momentum with consumers and the industrial sector
The Internet of Things continues to grain traction as more things become connected. All kinds of smart devices were on display at MWC with an increasing number of industrial and enterprise applications. As expected, there were the usual plethora of novelty consumer IoT devices on display - any takers for a smart fridge that takes snaps of its contents and sends them to your smartphone? This year ushered in a new era of the less exciting, but quietly revolutionary industrial IoT applications. For example, Fujitsu demoed a cow tracking technology called GyuHo, which feeds data to an analytics system built on top of Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform. The data is processed and analysed, so that farmers and vets can glean valuable insights about the health and well-being of each individual animal. ThingWorx was in attendance to promote their "digital twin" technology, and a “Mobile IoT Vineyard” demonstrator showed how connected sensors can help wine producers keep grapevines and wine stocks at optimum levels. Finally, as previously mentioned, IBM demoed their friendly robot that they believe will be used in the hospitality and the elder care sector, as a tour guide for hotel guests, and a companion for senior citizens. The aforementioned is just a drop in the ocean, as there were many, many more IoT devices on display at the show.
American's leading OEM is losing ground to Asian competitors
My final takeaway was that China appears to be well on its way to becoming a high value producer, thereby potentially out-innovating the USA. Clearly if Apple is to remain on top, it will need to do something radical. The kind of incremental innovation of recent years coming from the Cupertino giant, just isn't going to cut it in the era of hyper competition, and "phone fatigue". I have a few theories about why America is losing ground within the area of technological innovation, some of which I briefly shared during a talk I gave last week. Feel free to listen to my views and please comment below about this, and any other issues relating to this post. I'd very much welcome your feedback, so please join the conversation by commenting below, or via social media.
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