Summary of my blog entries from MWC 2011 published at OnIslam.net
Day 1: From ShowStoppers to ShowStarters
Once again the lead up to the launch has set the pace for what is the most exciting set of days in the mobile calendar. I was fortunate to have been invited to a number of analyst and press launches opting to spend my time between Showstoppers and Sony Ericsson, despite being at opposite ends of Barcelona.
Held at the Rey Juan Carlos hotel which was under high security on account of a famous football team staying at the same time, Showstoppers showcased a number of leading companies each announcing the next step in innovation or research. Of the two companies that stood out for me, InMobi captured my eye, literally.
In developing a new advertising structure they have ventured into the next generation of digital advertising. The first example, illustrated on an iPad, showed a banner advert at the bottom of the screen which showed an dslr camera. As you tilted the iPad the perspective changed creating a very strong visual, about as 3D as you could get on a 2D device. The other example showed a car advert where almost instantly the consumer is able to engage and interact with the advert changing, for example, the color of the car.
The second company of interest was Plantronics which introduced a headset with sensor technology that is ‘alive’, in so much as it knows when you are and are not wearing it. While perhaps less of an ‘innovation’ compared to some of the other hardware and software solutions on offer, I find that personalization adds considerable value to the consumer, thus appreciate ‘smart’ technology.
Dreading the trek to the other side of town for the Sony Ericsson (SE) launch, I noticed a bus had arrived to collect VIPs for the Samsung party. Having been awestruck last year when they launched the Wave phone, I questioned my resolve but was advised that the beachside venues for SE was more relaxing. Unlike the Koreans who last year hired a huge complex in which there was both ample seating and wall to wall projectors – literally, the British (SE), being British, took to exploit the beachside location despite the cramp conditions where drinks were accompanied with bowls of crisps; a far cry from the foie gras served last year!
But the tide changed quickly. Those of us seated on the stairs were promoted to front row reserved chairs, the announcements began and moments later there was a tide of applause. Building on the announcement of the SE Arc at CES some weeks prior, SE had announced a professional phone in the Xperia range incorporating a series of intuitive instructions.
The icing on the cake, however, was the new SE Play. After years of hope, unsatisfied consumer demands, and market conditions, the ecosystem has finally allowed for the first Playstation certified mobile phone. Not only that, but some lucky people will be blessed with one as early as March!
As a former fan of Sony products (phones, cameras, and TVs) I had lost my attraction to the brand as I suffered from the closed ecosystem (for example, memory cards.) In adopting Android Gingerbread and partnering with some of the worlds best companies, a much-anticipated product has ensured that Sony’s Make.Believe logo was read ‘the right way’.
Better, the canapés had begun to flow and MWC 2011 had truly started.
Day 2: The Sound of the Valentine’s Bear
A common theme with technology is the concept of free thought, for it is the ability to think outside the box which enables ideas to drive innovation. It is then of no surprise that when mentioning that my writings will appear on a website based out of Cairo, that I have been inundated with jubilant looks.
Even Dick Costolo, the CEO of Twitter, in his keynote spoke about the ways in which the messaging service has been used to empower and engage communities around the world, be it for sharing thoughts while the hit TV show xfactor runs, or aiding a revolution in Egypt. In fact, during the screening of the popular TV show Glee, tweets increase 30 fold – let us hope we are breeding a generation of multitasks and not a generation with goldfish-like attention spans.
Irrespective, with 40% of tweets originating from mobile phones and 50% of tweeterers using more than one platform to tweet, focus is shifting to ensure the same user experience is delivered – where today, in my case for example, I have three different interfaces: my phone, the website and via a service called tweetdeck.
As Microsoft’s CEO Steve Balmer took to the stage, he introduced us to the new Windows phone innovation of IE9. Bundled with advanced hardware acceleration, no demonstration would be complete without comparing a Windows phone to an Apple iPhone. Thus delegates witnessed a school of 50 fish swimming seamlessly on the former while the latter showed a meager treacle (very much in the same way crowds of executives were mismanaged by the GSMA, corralled and forced to wait like school children outside the auditorium.)
Both keynotes I felt lacked the va-va-voom often associated with the congress, though in the case of Microsoft, their announcement a week prior of a partnership with Nokia has left many joking: a fantastic new set of phones, wonderfully intuitive, just that every Thursday there will be an update, which most of the time will not function, and when it does, half of the time it will crash forcing you to make a fresh install. In the interest of fairness I should point out that the MacBook Air that I am currently using has also been subject to a number of fresh installs.
Gadgets and Teddy Bears
What struck me most was a comment made by AT&T. More than half of their customers look at the same content using three different devices. I pondered this thought en route to Pepcom’s Mobile Focus event where, as expected, some truly innovative companies were showcased. Of these my personal highlights included:
SanDisk: showing me a 64GB SSD about the size of a 1 penny piece.
Poynt: a search application which includes searches for, for example, restaurants.
C3: a company that has developed 3D mapping solutions where zooming into London from a view of Europe at that speed and in that level of detail almost made me feel as if I was flying.
Immersion: who have created a touch haptic platform which, while simple in idea, has a fantastic impact. I battled between my guitar strumming aspirations and a classic pinball machine.
Sonim: who aside from launching a spark free phone, have built one that is so resilient it can survive temperatures of -20 degrees Celsius, as proven when it was dipped into dry ice there and then!
Jawbone: probably the coolest Bluetooth speakers I have seen to date.
In all between the keynotes, the exhibition and the mobile focus event, day 2 was topped by a rather amusing gesture from Dolby, the fellows who bring us beautiful sound. Dolby provided a handful of us with Valentine’s day packs comprising a card, a t-shirt, a teddy bear and a bag of heart shaped chocolates from Thorntons. Their message? Many of us may be away from loved ones but we aren’t alone.
Of course, with tens of thousands in attendance that much at least is apparent, still, it is a lovely gesture with which to begin the first official day of the congress. To which end my Valentine’s bear and I bid you good night.
Day 3: Chefs Attending the Stuffed Goose
By now the conference momentum is such that in between the all-star-cast keynotes, the exhibition, and the networking, there is an absolute abundance of information. From AT&T, China Mobile, Telecom Italia to Telefonica, America Movil and Vodafone, the morning began with a varied selection of statistics and information, where for me, it was all summed up into a single fact cited by Rob Conway: within the next two years, more people will access the internet via their mobile phone than via their computer.
Chairman Wang of China Mobile observed that of the 590 million phones on his network, there are more than 9,000 different models where, despite extensive investment in an effort to counteract the demand for mobile date, they plan to have over a million WiFi hotspots across the country.
Further, they are in talks to enable WiFi roaming between China, Korea and Japan. These milestone initiatives ought to one day ensure that whoever we are, wherever we are, we have seamless access to information.
The way we are choosing to engage with information is also changing. Aside from sparking revolutions, Twitter is a category in it’s own right. With more than 60% of it’s users outside of the US, companies have run impressive campaigns on the platform.
From Al-Jazeera throughout the Cairo uprising, to Audi’s brilliant use of the hashtag ‘ProgressIs’ where tweeters would write #ProgressIs followed by what they believe progress to be. Instant, quick, direct and aware, there are quickly becoming two different camps, old and new. This was no better apparent than stepping into Hall 8.
On the one side we have a traditional, well respected brand: NEC in conservative tones. Their reception desk raised high such that only the shoulders and heads of the pretty assistants could be seen, if you were lucky enough to peek beyond the fluffy brown teddy bears which lay across the counter.
On the other, bright open spaces; near fluorescent green robots; a bar serving a selection of four smoothies with names as obscure as donut, cupcake, gingerbread and honeycomb; a slide; a robot customisation service which allowed you to print stickers of your robot; and friendly, approachable staff from the world over irrespective of whether, for example in the case of HTC, Bo and Meryl, had a product to demo.
I felt something there and then which I had not felt before, the contrasting extremes of engagements and experiences. Earlier over lunch I had a discussion with some visitors from China, Germany, the UK and the US. It was the American – who constantly travelled the world for business – who pointed out that the wider industry isn’t ready.
While many businesses cling to tried and tested traditional methods of engagement, there exists a resistance to change based around a fear of the unknown. It is as if working someone like a dog is the only way to ensure productivity while the simple notion of self-discipline remains alien, like robots; you could even say, like androids.
Earlier this evening I accepted an invitation to a party hosted by HP. Held at a restaurant/club on the top of the hill with far reaching views across Barcelona, along with being one of finer dining experiences thus far, teams were on hand to illustrate a new user experience.
Aside from sparking revolutions, Twitter is a category in it’s own right. With more than 60% of it’s users outside of the US, companies have run impressive campaigns on the platform.
I chose this evening to watch rather than engage directly and witnessed staff members speak about the convenience delivered by these devices when it hit me.
Like the goose which may very well have been stuffed to ensure its liver fattened up enabling us to enjoy some of the most delectable foie gras canapés, on account of the success and simplicity delivered by the ‘guys from Google’ the entire industry is ‘stuffed’ but full of ideas, perhaps even at breaking point.
To counter the opinion of the travelling American, where he suggests the industry isn’t ready for this much needed change, by analogy, perhaps the industry needs to move the chefs out of the kitchen and into the boardroom.
Day 4: Sweet & Sour
This morning I found myself at the Dolby hospitality suite enjoying salmon brioches with English breakfast all the while experiencing the miracle that is surround sound both via blueray and then via a mobile phone.
Of course, the phone solution is a virtual surround sound, but given the continued innovation in technology, wouldn’t it be nice if a group of friends sat together to watch a clip on one friend’s phone while the sound was delivered, in full surround sound, using the other mobile phones in their respective pockets? Dolby is, however, one of those companies that sit in a difficult position, a superb technology but one that relies on the innovative vision of their partners.
My early morning contribution to ‘fantastic innovative idea’ shared, I quickly made my way towards the keynote speeches: a discussion on the internet of things vs. the internet of everything; one on how 70% of consumer devices will be connected to the internet by 2014; and one on how phones have the capability of becoming wireless monitoring devices. While these and other revelations are important, the general consensus shared by many I spoke with today was that something was missing.
Inspiration is subjective. I learned today that there are a billion people in this world who have a phone but do not have a bank account, and that 80% of people are within range of a mobile phone signal but only 20% are connected to the internet. I would venture to say many of these people live in the developing world in countries where sunlight may be found in abundance, and while solar panels and chargers aren’t necessarily a new innovation.
One offering that did catch my eye is being delivered by a company named Intivation who have developed a single cell solution which utilizes every ounce of light. Working with a Umeox, a Chinese manufacturer, they have created the Apollo phone which is a solar powered touchscreen Android device. It is just a shame that there is no indication of pricing.
At the joint Qualcomm and Huawei party I found myself speaking with an operator from Iceland. It turns out that a country of just 300,000 has four mobile operators. Sure, one of these operators doesn’t actually have it’s own network, instead delivers via roaming agreements with the other three, but at best this means that with an even split, that’s 100,000 people per independent radio infrastructure. I have heard of saturated markets, I have also heard that Iceland is a beautiful country, but this is ridiculous.
Often in life we have to swallow a bitter pill. Poor planning, poor judgment, it happens to us all. But in an increasingly saturated market so many are looking at price wars to gain market share when instead they should be looking towards value added services, charging at a premium that distinguish them from their competitors. We the consumers have shown that we are prepared to pay for content, it just has to be the right type of content delivered in the right way.
Thus, while as a consumer I may be in favor of cheap price plans, someone still has to pay for the networked society. The sooner the consumer is given a better selection of choices for content and other services, the greater the likelihood that unlike the Icelandic festival of Thorrablot which features sour, preserved meats, both the consumer and the operator will benefit from a richer experience; a sweeter deal.
Day 5: From San Francisco to Seattle
First mover advantage is something so valuable it ought to be cherished more.
Stopping by the LG stand I finally managed some hands-on time with their new Optimus 3D, which not only displays 3D photos and videos but, armed with two 5 megapixel cameras on the back, captures them in 720p HD. The technology used is called paralex, and is glasses free. It has its ups and downs, but essentially the ability to capture and share digital content in this way is truly market leading.
Speaking of which, one of the more interesting features at the congress was the Embedded Mobile House. Here players big and small spoke about services such as the mobile guard where a GPS and 3G module is built into a necklace-like device that a child wears enabling the parent to know where the child is; the home robot which allows you to control it remotely to, for example, be able to read a bedtime story to your child while not being there physically; the photo box service where photos are sent to digital photo frames instantly wherever they are; the handwriting messaging service which allows a user to draw/write a message which is then delivered via MMS/SMS/Email; and many more interesting innovations all of which are delivered via sim-enabled devices.
However, the idea is that each item has an identity and that there is a constant and smooth flowing of information. The optimist in me found comfort when the CEO of Vodafone mentioned that a few suitcase sized boxes can be delivered to any disaster zone and within 40 minutes a full blown mobile network can be set up. But the cynic in me wonders why the free WiFi provided by a world-leading provider such as Cisco meant that even those giving live presentations were unable to find the bandwidth they needed, let alone those of us watching the presentations.
If Cisco, one of the world’s best companies, and the GSMA, the world’s leading mobile organization, cannot pull their act together and provide working WiFi for attendees at a congress, what does it say about our technical capabilities? Moreover, what will it mean for us when we are using more data as our homes and offices and eventually become more connected? If the ‘big guys’ are unable to plan sufficiently knowing that there will be high demand for WiFi, what hope do any of the rest of us have in managing our own data needs?
With more than 60,000 visitors from over 200 countries, the week began as if we were in sunny San Francisco and has ended as if we are in rainy Seattle. The final party I chose to attend was the Mlove party which was sponsored by MXOHamburg.com. Unlike MWC which brought together a very strong B2B crowd, MXO is designed to enable brands understand how to benefit from the mobile channel.
Setbacks and the occasional missing inspiration aside, MWC was once again interesting and educational. I hope that the GSMA build on the achievements of this year to ensure that we have an even better congress next year.