Mobile World Congress: What does 2016 bring for mobile?

Venessa Hunt
By Venessa Hunt | 2 March 2016
Group M head of mobile, Venessa Hunt

Mobile World Congress is the biggest mobile trade show in the world. Held in Barcelona, Spain, with over 100,000 attendees and 2,500 exhibitors, it’s like Christmas for the mobile industry.

This year’s congress had a lot of buzz, with three obvious overarching themes.

1. Mobile is far more than mobile

Over the years, our industry has come up against the question of which “devices” fall under the mantle of “mobile”. For example, were tablets included when we talked mobile? As the industry matured, the question shifted to wearables and as most wearables were powered by the mobile device in some form, we threw them into the mobile bucket too.

After walking down the halls of Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, it’s pretty obvious that the definition of mobile is broadening even further. From connected cars (Ford, Mercedes) to virtual reality roller coasters (Samsung), and wearables for animals (Fujitsu), it’s clear now that to really understand mobile, you need to focus on the bigger picture of what the technology, data, and capabilities can provide – not just the device itself.

Wrapping your head around the bigger picture will put your company at the forefront of innovation and create a powerful connection to customers. While it will require innovation and investment, the cost of inaction is far greater. Mobile is now a convergence of devices, connectivity and digital service.

2. The divide is increasing

The gap between companies that understand and invest in mobile and those that don’t is growing at a greater speed than ever before. While some brands power ahead, others trail behind.

The stark contrast between companies innovating and creating new experiences and those that don’t understand the role of mobile in their business is growing. It is increasingly obvious that brands that get it – and therefore put their customers’ digital consumption and habits at the core of their businesses – will continue to lead the industry.

One example of a company steering firmly towards the future of mobile is Ford. The world’s fifth largest car manufacturer showcased its commitment to a connected and driverless car, while also launching payment and car hire services. Ford President and CEO Mark Fields told MWC attendees: “Transport we feel is on the cusp of revolution, and its inspiring a revolution at Ford. It’s about making people’s lives better about the way the world moves.”

Speaking on a panel at MWC about investment in mobile, Sir Martin Sorrell said: “Media agencies used to be defined by talent and rates, and now increasingly it’s technology.”

The overarching message was that mobile is more important than ever before, driving perception innovation and talent – it’s everything.

3. It’s all about immersive experiences, with video at the core

Normally, at Mobile World Congress, the handsets take centre stage as most major brands (with the exception of Apple) launch their new handsets every year. However this year, handsets took a huge back step to make way for immersive experiences. At the forefront definitely was virtual reality taking up most of the conversation at the Congress.

Samsung made the biggest splash, with the theatrics of its Galaxy S7 launch event that saw everyone wearing VR headsets for the unveiling. Ironically, that meant the appearance of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg was an anti-climax as no one actually saw him walk in. Samsung also launched the Gear 360 VR camera, which has the potential to take producing VR content into the hands of everyone and the virtual reality roller coaster was by far the most queued attraction at the event.

In Zuckerberg’s keynote, he said his vision for VR was to “go places”, to give people a better way to express themselves and to experience things. He envisions the whole world sharing “scenes” of their life. From the humble beginnings of text, then imagery then video, he predicted that sharing VR experiences would be the way of the future.

HTC and LG also launched VR headsets and LG unveiled a 360-degree camera, but these events did not live up to the excitement of Samsung.

What was clear was that VR is not about exploring static images in time but full video experiences, with predictions that VR would significantly change the music and entertainment industries and how we consume this content.

The others

The normal predictions were there like every year – promises for faster connections (5G), the rise of Mcommerce (especially in developing countries) and the greater impact of mobile on retail (heat mapping in store).

In comparison to years gone by, wearables were noticeably smaller outside of VR/AR, with some fashion brands getting on board after the Guess Smartwatch launch at CES, and fitness clothing with haptic feedback and real-time sensors. And surprisingly there was a lack of discussion around AI and virtual assistants (think Siri/Cortana/Google Now), and not much around mobile phone-driven robotics.

Nevertheless, the energy and excitement around the possibilities was palpable. Big picture ideas and passion came from non-traditional mobile people with light bulb moments and turning points when power of mobile became obvious.

It’s now clear that we need to stop asking when the year of the mobile will be, and admit that happened many years ago. Mobile is part of digital, not an extension, and needs to be at the core of every company’s strategies to gain ground or remain ahead of the pack.

By Venessa Hunt, head of mobile at GroupM.

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