Barcelona is emptying as MWC17 comes to a close. Evolution, not revolution, was the overarching impression taken away by the Somo team. 2016 was a year of rapid developments in hardware and platforms, this year saw companies taking stock and understanding how to make use of them.
Here’s what we learned.
2000 came back around again with the launch of the updated 3310, spurred on by nostalgia this was, tellingly perhaps, the announcement most widely covered in the media. It has snake, the battery lasts for a month (OEMs take note) and it costs $40. Expect to see it in many festival goers and ironic hipster hands soon.
Other handsets launched included the Huawei P10 (camera tech and machine learning optimised memory) and the Sony XZ (super slow mo) with Motorola announcing a new mod to add Amazon Alexa functionality. Overall though, handsets are handsets, nothing landscape changing to report.
5G as an enabler
5G was ubiquitous again this year, even though the underlying infrastructure is still a long way from being rolled out at any scale. Most people in the know are saying not to expect any major deployments until 2020 at the earliest. With development now a given however, there was a welcome focus on applications.
The networks enabled Smart Cities, IoT, and the plethora of network connected sensors they entail was a common theme. Stand out companies included Nokia’s connected healthcare devices and DarkMatter’s demonstration of the potential of connected city infrastructure to plan for and respond to terror attacks.
Connected cars that tapped into city infrastructure was also big as a result. Visitors to Telefonica and Ericsson’s stand were able to remotely drive a car 50km away from the venue, showcasing the ability and reliability of the network. A good example of a service layer on top of connected car ecosystems was Mercedes/Smart highlighting the ‘ready to drop’ platform, turning your car into a parcel drop off point. We’d like to see more OEMs thinking about how they can integrate 3rd party services like this, in car media opportunities could be particularly interesting.
5G is also seen as a requirement for the 360 live streaming market to become viable, so there were plenty of demos showcasing this.
Incremental upgrades to VR hardware and functionality
Unlike 2016, there weren’t any major VR launches, but there were some new partnerships and decent stand activations. Some upgraded hardware was released, notably Qualcomm and Leap Motion’s integrated mobile headset, another step on the way to untethered 6DoF mobile VR. By the reactions of Leap representatives when pressed, we can expect to see the hand tracker embedded in a major headset this year.
Visa and Mastercard had PoCs showcasing checkout experiences in VR, and Lithuanian firm TeleSoftas were the only company we could find with a social VR offering. Incremental innovation as opposed to transformation, but the range of viable VR use cases is expanding.
In Mixed Reality, HoloLens was deployed effectively by Ford and AT&T, among others, to explain their connected car offerings, the headset is a brilliant tool for communicating product offerings. Commercial use cases outside marketing were harder to come by but we’ll be hoping for more of these through this year in preparation for 2018.
Payments and conversational everything
Conversational interfaces were common across stands, though voice wasn't as prevalent as we thought it would be.
In the world of digital assistants, Alexa was the most visible, but it’s market share is being eroded as competitors gradually launch on more platforms (Cortana for iOS, Assistant for many new Android phones). There was a new entrant in the home based form of Sony’s Xperia Agent, not much of a threat to Echo or Google Home yet, but we liked the inclusion of a screen to give feedback on voice requests if necessary. The best voice experiences at the congress often included an element of visual UI. Google Assistant worked particularly well on LG’s latest watch running Android Wear 2.0, giving credence to the idea that voice could be a boost for wearables.
Mastercard were exploring payments and a host of smaller companies were looking at in-bot media, the ecosystem is developing fast.
App Planet was busy this year with lots of talk around the opportunities that 5G and new Wifi tracking data present. There was activity that suggested carriers are trying to get back into the media game - with the likes of Singtel acquiring Turn through Amobee, rumours around an acquisition of location data company Statiq by a Telefonica company, and Verizon this year acquiring AOL and possibly Yahoo.
Platforms such as Singular and Appsumer, that promise to empower brands to manage, protect and control their data better were noticeably higher profile than previous years, as clients take the control and ownership of their media buys back.
In summary, a year in which we have started to see what impact the big announcements of 2016 will have. A smaller presence from the big players, incremental innovation in VR hardware and services, the potential of smart cities starting to be better defined and subsequent innovation in connected car and conversational interfaces rolling out to more platforms.
Have a look at our coverage of #MWC2017 on YouTube.