Mobile World Congress 2017 - what's the future for mobile?
By Naji El-Arifi, Head of Innovation UK
It’s that time again – when every mobile operator and geek descends onto the city of Barcelona for Mobile World Congress, Europe’s answer to the Consumer Electronics Show.
For Salmon, MWC allows us not only to see what the future holds for retail, ecommerce and mobile but to get hands-on and try out some of the best and most cutting edge tech on behalf of our clients. Ultimately, we aim to use these experiences to inform them on the direction they should be taking, and which technologies to embrace in the near-to-far future; cutting through the gimmicks to find the trends that are going to shape the future of the many industries we work in.
Unlike previous years, the focus of MWC wasn’t really about mobile phones. It’s now more of a technology show with manufacturers realising the importance of working with third parties like Salmon, to provide the services to operate in this digital world in a safe and secure, more efficient manner, whilst providing a rich customer experience.
Only a few manufacturers announced new devices, the most interesting being the LG G6. The G6 really gives us a window into the future of mobile, with a phone that has over 80% of its front being the display. The reason this is the future is because we all love big phone displays, however we have small hands and pockets. By reducing the bezels to almost nothing means that the G6 fits a bigger screen than the iPhone 7+ into a phone not much bigger than the normal iPhone. Rumours and leaks have shown that this is also the direction the next Samsung S8 and iPhone (and therefore the market) are expected to go. The most surprising phone, and one that brought the largest crowds for a mobile device, was the updated Nokia 3310; a remake of the classic feature phone from the early 2000s. For those of you with long enough memories, rest assured it comes with snake, albeit not the snake you remember.
The biggest trend and the one that seemed to be ubiquitous in every hall was 5G, which will deliver speeds of up to 10Gbps. From Intel to Huawei, everyone was talking about how their organisation was the perfect partner for 5G, and how it was the future. Each company tried to show how the technology could help users; one even showcased a drumkit-playing robot and VR over 5G to demonstrate the low latency and speed.
However, the connected car seemed to be the most widely shown example. Connected cars in the future will not only produce a huge amount of data but will also be sharing that data with each other. The extra speed of 5G will allow a car to process and share its information at lightning speed due to the low latency that 5G delivers. Latency is measured in milliseconds and is the time it takes for data to go to a server and back again, for example; the lower this number is the better. This will be especially important when it comes to the self driving car. Google's self driving car is estimated to produce nearly 1GB of data a second. Ensuring a network fast enough to process all this data will therefore become essential!
From a brand perspective, this extra speed could mean deeper, more design heavy websites with better graphics and animations, without the worry of performance being impacted. Improved network speed could also spell the end for the need to wait for apps to download. It could also push solutions like Google’s Instant apps, which allows for the app to run on a server, meaning the user never even downloads the app.
Of course, with great power comes great responsibility. The “downside” to this improved speed is that websites will be forced to interrogate their build and load to ensure that they are configured for speed. Once users become accustomed to quick load times, they will become even less patient with poorly performing, cumbersome and slow sites. So for brands, our advice would be to run some load and speed audits now to ensure that 5G doesn’t leave you behind.
The second biggest trend behind 5G, was virtual reality. Nearly every single brand had some sort of VR experience. Interestingly a lot of these were based around entertainment and not truly useful use cases, cementing the fact that we are still at the early stage of VR, waiting for it to stretch its wings. This did highlight how brands are still struggling to identify how best to commercialise VR for the benefit of the customer.
What was interesting about this year was the fact that most of the brands were experimenting and therefore learning about VR in a more practical way. This is important because VR should, and more likely will, be a large part of people's entertainment experiences, and experimenting and understanding its limitations is critical to succeeding. Audi for example had tried VR multiple times to understand its limitations and now has a very strong understanding of how to succeed with it.
The fact that so many brands were using it at MWC this year, is further proof and incentive that retailers and brands who are not thinking about VR, need to. Those not involved in this mega-trend will be on the back foot when VR inevitably hits mass adoption.
Many have likened the adoption of VR to that of 3D televisions. Our advice is to not think of VR in this way. The experience is all-encompassing of course, but the adoption curve is different too, mainly due to VR’s close association to the smart phone. This unison means that VR has a killer route to market already laid out by the mass adoption of smartphones.
If you are a brand and have not tried VR, or need help in understanding how it could be commercialised for your company, then Salmon's innovation lab doors are always open. A quick hack day or ideation session may get your VR strategy in place quicker than you might think!
When it comes to retail experiences, MWC is a great way to see how different companies try to entice you into their booth, and there are lessons to be had on how brands can potentially get people into their stores. Below are some examples:
1. VR and large experiences: creating unique experiences you can't have anywhere else such as Samsung with its VR experience area. This attracted a constant queue due to people being seduced by what their home of the future could look and feel like.
2. Transparent displays and Smart mirrors: multiple companies were using transparent displays to showcase their products and smart mirrors to show how you can enhance the in-store experience. These technologies allow you to turn what used to be just glass into a surface for enhancing the customer experience.
3. Product-less retail: usage of experiences that relied on not needing the product directly on show for people to touch. Use of Hololens and VR (mainly by automotive brands) showed how you could enhance the car showroom experience. The automotive brands were showcasing how the use of holograms and audio could teach people about functionality in the car, and was more engaging than just a parked car. This is especially important if you don't have much square footage in your store to show every item that you sell.
Here’s an example of how our one of our customers DFS is using digital signage and tablets across its 110 stores to help customers make decisions more quickly, while improving conversion and maximising store space.
4. Use of new technologies: several companies were taking advantage of scarce technology that users have more than likely never tried before, like Hololens. This drew a crowd and gave users a taste of what the company was looking to do in the future.
When it comes to payment, companies were really focused on security and how best to authenticate payments. This came in 2 forms - each centred around biometrics like your fingerprint or facial recognition. A couple of companies showcased debit and credit cards with fingerprint scanners built directly into the card, meaning the future may be a world where you no longer have to remember your PIN. This was also built so that it could be used with current payment tills, whereas the facial recognition needed new chip and pin devices that included the additional hardware of a camera.
The most interesting use was a type of “2 factor facial recognition” to authenticate online purchases. Let's say you are paying for an item on a website via your desktop or laptop. At the point of confirming payment, the website would send a notification to your phone and an app would take a picture of your face. Once the app authenticated that you are you, it then communicates with the website you are trying to pay at and allows the payment to go through automatically. This kind of authentication is not just better for brands, as it ensures the right person is paying, but also shows how a brand is committed to the security of their customers. This highlights the growing importance of mobile not just to authenticate users but more generally in retail as a more primary payment component.
Companies like Visa were also looking into how you would pay with VR. The reason for this is that, if by 2020 we have 5G, the streaming of not just UHD (4K) content but more importantly full 360 virtual reality video will become easy. Therefore if you are going to spend your time in VR, you are going to want to be able to pay via VR as well. With Visa’s example, they showed a use case that allowed you to buy Formula 1 tickets using your voice to authenticate payment while watching a race via your VR headset.
Overall this year's event was more about how technology could be used in the future in practical ways, and less about new phones and new technology for technology's sake. It was one of the few MW Conferences where a lot of the technology did not seem 50 years away, but rather on the near horizon – is this further proof that the rate of change and adoption is getting quicker?
From a Salmon point of view, we believe it is because we are on the verge of a lot of technologies entering into mass production and adoption. Concepts that have been talked about for years - self driving cars, smart glass, biometric security, computers everywhere and of course always being connected – are now technologically deliverable and just searching for the right commercialisation.
Here's our video round-up of what we learnt.
If you would like to talk to us about anything in this post or something more specific from the show please get in contact with us at SLAM@salmon.com.
Interested in more topics like this? Go to What We Think.