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UK Insights

Mobile World Congress 2016 - hit or miss?

Claire Davies

Former editor and head of content

Mobile 25.02.2016 / 18:00

MWC virtual reality

Turns out it’s a bit of both

Before Mobile World Congress 2016 had even kicked off, Guy Rolfe, Kantar's Head of Global Mobile Practice, had identified a problem - no clear theme. As one of our partners at Facebook said of GSMA’s choice of strapline: “‘Mobile is everything’ so vague it could mean anything.” Was this the reason that many of our experts felt a sense of déjà vu, with lots of content and conversations, a repeat of last year?

It wasn’t that people didn’t attempt to discuss the important issues, they did, but those discussions didn’t go very deep. Mardien Drew, Kantar's Head of Digital Incubation: “This is my fifth year attending MWC, and this is probably the most underwhelming year in terms of speakers. I don’t think that’s because I am any less excited about it, because the line-up of speakers was strong: Mark Zuckerberg, Lewis Hamilton and Sir Martin Sorrell. I just felt that these great speakers weren’t really asked the right questions, so we didn’t get any thought-provoking or ground-breaking statements, or new learning, which is disappointing.”

Take Mark Zuckerberg’s keynote, he talked about the billion people who are still not connected and his frustration about the focus on enabling 5G for rich people. While this is certainly an issue, it’s something everyone in the mobile industry is aware of. Mardien wanted to hear what experts like him expect in the mobile space over the next five years, and how that’ll impact our lives and businesses.

Perhaps part of the reason that the conversation isn’t moving on as quickly as our experts might like is the problem of smartphone market saturation, highlighted in Kantar Worldpanel ComTech’s report:  ‘Smartphones - the time of double-digit growth is over, deal with it!’ As Carolina Milanesi from Kantar Worldpanel ComTech explains: “Over the past couple of years, smartphones have all started to look the same, with technology innovation measured in steps rather than leaps.”

One area of innovation Zuckerberg did talk about briefly, was the increasing desire people have to take engagement and social connections to the next level, using 360 video and virtual reality. VR was one of the hot topics of Mobile World Congress 2016, perhaps because there was so little noise about wearables. Wearables aren’t dead, but because the industry hasn’t got them right yet, the conversation has gone quiet. The image of everyone at the Samsung press conference wearing VR headsets, oblivious to Mark Zuckerberg walking past them, is arguably the picture of the congress.


The fact that wearing a VR headset is restrictive, means the next big tech opportunity is likely to be 360 video. Guy Rolfe explains: “VR is exciting people, with long queues to demo virtual reality devices, but the best demo had the smallest queue. Nokia have a device that looks like a football filled with cameras. The demo is a film scene of pirates fighting, and it’s so immersive it’s like you are there. Unfortunately, not enough content or applications are being leveraged into the real market, yet, but as soon as that happens it’ll be amazing. Imagine an Amazon virtual reality store; being able to explore your next holiday destination before you go; or having your estate agent take you on a virtual tour of a property. And it will be essential that this content is delivered cheaply through your mobile phone.”

In 2015, we started to see a lot more people selling data and in 2016 it felt like everyone wanted to sell data. The quality of the data varies wildly and much of it is mediocre at best. Guy Rolfe is concerned: “What worries me is the number of people I’ve met who are putting software on devices and collecting data, where there is no obvious opt-in. The average consumer has no idea what data is being used and shared from their device.”

So what does the future hold for MWC 2017? Mardien Drew predicts we’ll see more about the Internet of Things (IOT): “I thought we’d see more drones in 2016 and different wearables, but we haven’t seen that. So next year, I’d imagine it’ll be more about the internet of things. I’m not talking about connected fridges and cars, but more about other devices that the consumer can carry around and wear.”

Carolina Milanesi from Kantar Worldpanel ComTech says 2016 will be the year when those in the smartphone market must go beyond hardware to succeed: “Vendors will need to continue spending significantly on innovation, creating the ‘next big thing’, and convincing users that they need it. A new perspective is necessary, since the ‘next big thing’ in devices may not be a device at all. It may be software or ecosystem enhancements, which is complicated for those in the Android space, since they do not control all the pieces. Plus, it is harder for vendors to sell what cannot easily be touched in the same way that a new gadget can. A new balance is required. The smartphone market will never again see the growth of the past ten years. But, the opportunities to make money from what has already been built are there, for those with the vision to find and seize them.”

Source : Kantar, Kantar Worldpanel

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