Step aside smartphones: MWC has a new set of media darlings
Can the smartphone be the star of the world it facilitates?
In under a month the global mobile and telecoms world will descend on Barcelona to show the world what the next generation of mobile products and services will look like – and with any luck demonstrate how they will affect peoples’ lives when on the move, at home and at work.
Once upon a time, it was painfully easy to predict what the major talking points of MWC were going to be (way back when in 2012). Who’s made the fastest, thinnest, most intuitive, feature-packed, sensibly priced smartphone this year? Almost every MWC round-up you read was a eulogy, fawning over the latest pocket-sized hardware.
Processors have traditionally done pretty well at MWC and the need for speed is one of the threads of the show. Whether it’s talking about who has made the fastest processor or the “insane” speeds we can come to expect from 3G (yes, people actually said that), 4G or 5G, we’ve always wanted our mobile devices to keep improving against their personal bests.
Okay, so I am being a little harsh here. MWC has always been about more than just phones, but, never before have we seen the mobile world so awash with new, potentially life-changing technologies.
Waking up to the mobile ecosystem
One only has to take a look at some of the keynote speakers at this year’s event to see the topics that are getting the mobile and telecoms decision makers out of bed. The Internet of Things and connected cars, arguably a sub-category of IoT, and connected lifestyle are ruling the waves of the world’s biggest mobile show.
The conversations at MWC tend to centre on connectivity, power and usability of mobile devices. And in the context of the Internet of Things, these conversations are changing significantly. It’s not just about the device anymore, but about the ecosystem in which those devices exist.
At a device level, smartphones appear to have reached something of a plateau in terms of innovation. They tend to get thinner and faster and the one key area certain manufacturers need to improve is power supply; whether that’s moving towards wireless charging methods or finding ways of solving the infernal battery life issue through envelope tracking.
What the smartphone has done is pave the way for new waves of mobile devices. Thanks to the cultural effects on society that smartphones have had, there has been significant growth in markets for device manufacturers creating products that interface with smartphones. It all started with apps as smartphones democratised industries including gaming, education software and media, allowing anyone with an idea and a bit of will-power to produce an app.
Eventually we started seeing apps combined with hardware – such as heart and blood-glucose monitors that could store information in the cloud and display it on your smartphone. Now, the combination of smartphones, the cloud, the Internet of Things and a new wave of wearable technology has made MWC more about how devices are interconnected than the products themselves.
Shall I slip into my Internet of Things?
Wearable technology was a headline grabber at MWC 2014 and the hype we saw at CES 2015 around wearables shows that this trend isn’t going anywhere. When Steve Jobs said the Mac would be the hub of other peripheral devices such as the iPod, iPhone and iPad – what he may have never quite predicted is the situation we have now. The smartphone is now the hub – dictating how we interact with wearable devices, cars and the workplace.
“No, Nan you can’t wear the Internet.” Well, that wouldn’t sound like such a stupid statement nowadays. Wearable tech has evolved from pocket watches and headphones into smart watches, wristbands, fitness trackers and health monitors. Wearable accessories are in essence turning humans into a mini connected ecosystem of peripherals all feeding into one device: the smartphone.
To conclude, of course I’m not saying that smartphones aren’t important or cool – I’m also not implying that there is nowhere to go for device manufacturers. What is apparent though is that the smartphone revolution has happened. What we’re seeing now is an evolution of how we use smartphones to interact with other devices, other ecosystems and other environments. It is out of this that some of the next technological revolutions are being born.