Mobile World Congress in Review
Eddie Hold, President ;
Consumer Electronics Connected Intelligence
This year’s Mobile World Congress is wrapping up and soon everyone will be heading to the airport. While the show was, as expected, heavily focused on smartphones (coming in the next blog), there was plenty of other things to see too…
Amazon’s Alexa may be a strong presence at shows such as CES, but when it comes to Mobile World Congress, Google Assistant rules the roost. Large OEMs such as LG and Huawei made plenty of room for the assistant, featuring it both as part of the phone ecosystem, as well as within the home. LG, for example, demonstrated Google Assistant in the kitchen environment, making sure the oven was on, the clothes were washing, and plenty more. But one suggestion for Google’s next show: stay inside. The company’s tent at CES was flooded out, and the company’s MWC “village” outside enjoyed snow. So, torrential rain in Vegas and snow in Barcelona, remind me to avoid their next outside exhibit.
While firmly a device and infrastructure show, there was still plenty of room for discussions about “the cloud,” particularly as the faster speeds and lower latency of 5G will allow for more processing to take place in the cloud, rather than at the edge device. What that means is we could see much smaller VR devices (yes, they were there) with the headset acting more as the simple “glass” for the computations in the cloud. Not only does that help justify 5G investments (cue a sigh of relief from carriers around the world), it could also lead to a very big leap in innovation in consumer electronics over time. Speaking of clouds and VR, kudos to HTC for the best VR demo, which allowed participants to float above the desert in a hot air balloon they control.
The car of the future is fast becoming a “must have” feature of any self-respecting show and MWC is no exception. Daimler Benz, in particular, came to show the latest in car connectivity, not to mention the smart car of the future. All of which, of course, need a low-latency, high-speed network (cue a second sigh of relief from carriers). It takes quite something to overshadow the combination of Mercedes and Smart… but having Formula One (F1) exhibiting at the show took things to the next level. Why was F1 racing there, you may ask? They announced the launch of F1 TV, an over-the-top streaming channel. While details were limited, one would hope that this will include 360-degree cameras in the cars, streamed live to VR headsets at home. Although, of course, we may need to wait for 5G networks to actually launch before we see that (cue groans from F1 enthusiasts across the world).
Huawei may be struggling to crack the U.S. market, but the company was out to show its market strength with an impressive booth. With top of the line phones, tablets, and laptops, the presence felt second only to Samsung… just like its place in the Android worldwide device market. The laptop was particularly nifty, with the camera popping out of keyboard (the middle of the function key row), meaning you can “disable” the camera at the press of a button. The move may leave some people in the U.S. government scratching their collective heads… it does rather go against the argument that Huawei is always trying to spy on us...
A Small Throwback
Two niche products came together at the show in the form of Sailfish (a version of Linux from ex-Nokia folk) and the Gemini Computer, a refresh of the old Psion from the early 1990s. In fairness, the Gemini will be a dual-boot device, allowing you to have both Android and Sailfish (or some other Linux version) running happily together. We’ve talked about the Gemini before, having first spotted it last year at CTIA, but Planet Computing, the company responsible for the Gemini, is now shipping the first of them to the early Indiegogo fans. With 4G and the ability to connect to external screens, the Gemini could become a useful “real keyboard” device to throw in a pocket for future trade shows rather than a laptop.
Same As It Always Was
Remember the years when mobile shows were full of talk about mobile payments, such as those vending machines where you could by a soda using your phone? Yup… that hasn’t happened, at least not at the very show where you would expect it. Instead, the machines we came across looked the same as they always have, with slots for coins and bank notes. And yet, we came across no vendors showing off the vending machine of the future. Did the dream die? While they may not need the low-latency OR the high-speeds of 5G, the vending machine is still a great IoT implementation, which is another promised use for 5G. And, not to pile on (too much), perhaps every self-respecting smart city (that’s you Barcelona) should be expected to adopt smart payments too. Perhaps next year Barcelona...