News

POV: Mobile World Congress 2015 Barcelona

Mindshare Point of View

Background

Mobile networks, manufacturers, platforms, and technology partners made their annual pilgrimage to Barcelona this week, to attend Mobile World Congress 2015: The Edge of Innovation.  Despite the conference title, MWC has become as much about wearable technology and the Internet of Things than mobile phones.

Details

Once again Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg used his keynote to talk about internet.org. A Facebook-led initiative aimed at bringing together technology leaders, charities, and local communities to connect the 50% of the world’s population without internet access.  Last year at MWC 2014, he was bullish about mobile operators getting in involved saying, “internet.org would happen with or without them”.  This year though, he appeared onstage with a handful of global operators, acknowledging that growing the internet is no easy task and working together with the Telecoms would accelerate this.

Google announced that they will launch an MNVO (mobile virtual network operator) in the US on a small scale.  Sprint, AT&T and Verizon will certainly see this move as a threat, particularly around more competitive value and pricing.  Google’s mobile ecosystem looks almost complete, with them owning the hardware (Nexus), platform/OS (Android) and now the network too.

5G was a big hype topic, with the main message being that with everything now becoming connected (homes, cars and the billions of wearables forecast in the coming years) we need a rock solid infrastructure to keep it running.

Samsung provided MWC with the biggest product launch of the week, with their new S6 Edge device (similar to an iPhone in look and feel).  In addition they also introduced Samsung Pay, which will work in a similar way to Apple Pay.  However, unlike Apple (and the mobile operators), Samsung don’t have a billing relationship with their customers which may hinder its adoption. Furthermore, Sony launched Experia Z4 - the world’s brightest 2k display and LG, the G Flex -the world’s first curved, flexible phone.

Microsoft launched two new beautiful Lumia devices (now branded Microsoft rather than Nokia) – the 640 and 640XL.  The XL model on 4G costs a little over £150, which presents a huge opportunity for Microsoft in the developing mobile markets. They may even encroach on the lower end smartphone share, which Android currently dominates. Windows 10 looks great too – with a rallying cry to developers and content producers that they only need to build something once to work across Xbox, desktop, Surface, Windows Phone and eventually Microsoft Band.

Apple don’t attend MWC in any official capacity, but their influence was clear to see.  From the ZTE Blade S6, which requires a closer look to realise that it wasn’t actually an iPhone, to the number of wearable products that bridged smart tech and high fashion.  Swarovski’s shine range perfectly ties together beauty, luxury, and technology, in much the same way we expect Apple Watch to do when it launches in April.

Implications

There were huge parallels to be drawn between the vast MWC exhibition and how we engage with two main app stores (iOS & Android) - both are huge and unwieldy, making discovery very difficult.  As we trawled through the 8 exhibition halls gazing at seemingly familiar stands, it felt akin to trying to find that killer app you are looking for in an app store.  We relied on word of mouth to find out where the good stuff was, much like discovering great apps – and in the majority of cases, once you engaged with and actually understood some new tech, you were ready to move on to something else. 

Connectivity in terms of battery life and WIFI/cellular was also a dominant theme.  For the world’s biggest mobile conference, WIFI coverage and usability was very poor and battery life not much better in its ability to cover the 1,900 exhibitors across eight exhibition halls.  There were noticeable more charging stations this year, but not nearly enough - with attendees prioritizing the charging of their portable chargers over the phones themselves - an indication of the times!  This space certainly presents an opportunity for brands to win consumers, simply by facilitating the means of getting connected and staying connected.  Starbucks and IKEA are just two examples of brands that are embedding wireless charging into their products & service and meeting consumers’ desire to stay connected by keep their devices powered.

In summary, for all the will in the world, a big shiny stand at MWC or a sizeable paid media budget will only get brands so far.  Focusing on creating a killer product or service will be the single most important thing that sets them apart.