MWC Barcelona 2017: Jamon, Chaos, and Mobility

For those of you who couldn’t make it to MWC this year, we can catch you up with the first-person experience of Director of Strategy and Design (EMEA), Greg Flory. Here’s Greg’s run down from MWC Barcelona:

It’s Sunday and I’m still recovering from last week in Barcelona at Mobile World Congress. If you haven’t been, I totally get why that sounds a little ridiculous—after all, you’re in one of the nicest cities on the planet, constantly eating jamon Iberico, quaffing tasty Rioja and nibbling on that amazing bread with tomatoes and olive oil. And it’s all lovely. Seriously, you should go. But the reality is that MWC has you running around all day, and most nights, trying to make sense of the chaos created by the collision of technology, vision, globalization, the rapidly advancing future, and the rippling impact of mobile innovation on adjacent industries and technologies. It’s overwhelming. And exhausting.

So, as I gradually emerge from the dreamy Catalan fog, there are several takeaways that I’d like to quickly share:

  • Autonomy is a thing. We tend to think of this in terms of smart objects or connected cars—and there were cars everywhere throughout the exhibition halls—but it’s the impact on human experience that is truly interesting. We have arrived at a point where tools and information can remove uncertainty and the mundane, allowing us to invest our energy in what we care about the most. AI-powered bots will get better, giving us immediate access to precise solutions. Autonomous drones will inspect, map, and deliver to locations quicker, and more safely and efficiently than we can today. Even lighting, championed by Philips, will change dramatically, moving beyond simple illumination to help us heal physically and make sense of our environment in new ways.
  • Data is your business. Or your next business. Investing in mobile ensures that you will have access to information about your customers that you never knew was available. Brands such as Spotify are working with companies to help find better ways to engage their customers. Connected devices, aligned with connected cars, houses, and cities will create even more data, while revealing services and products that we couldn’t have imagined or seen previously. And there’s no excuse for not knowing your customer—the actual people—with names, preferences and an increasing array of options.
  • We all need partners. Now more than ever. Having worked exclusively in mobile for the past six years, I thought I was pretty aware of my limitations. But there are entire parts of the ecosystem that I didn’t know existed. It is expansive and there is opportunity across the spectrum. And wherever you are on the mobility journey, it is an enormous benefit to have the right people to help you manage all of the moving parts. And believe me, there is no shortage. For every one person I saw and/or bumped into on the conference floor, there were 20 trying to get through passport control on Friday morning. And obviously, I think Bottle Rocket is an excellent choice. If you think the partner suggestion contradicts my first point about autonomy, I’d just say that having the right partner allows you to focus on the areas of your unique expertise, ceding certain specialties to people best prepared to manage.

When I wasn’t speaking my unique brand of broken, largely unintelligible Tex-Mex Spanish to patient and accommodating Catlan cab drivers, I was most likely wandering around Halls 8.0, 8.1 and 3 of the Fira Gran Via prepping for and/or leading a technology tour with WPP’s Data Alliance. The tour may have been the best thing that could have happened since it forced me to explore and engage with a lot of people I would normally have avoided. It challenged some of my assumptions and confirmed others.

You can expect a healthy dose of what’s next at the world’s largest mobile gathering, but there seemed to be quite a few brands and manufacturers pushing back against the future, trying their best to pluck our taught little, nostalgic heartstrings. Here are two headliners and one wild card:

  • Nokia, with its 3310, demonstrates that you don’t really need a good reason to dredge up the past (unless this is intended for the developing world) and plenty of people crowded the table to get their paws on the retro hand candy. Looks fun. Feels great in the hand. But the proprietary OS is very much a drill down—endlessly—to take simple actions, then drill back out. This was an instant reminder that UX in the pre-smartphone era was painfully slow and often unrewarding. The 3310 has 22 hours of talk time (not that anyone really does that on their phone anymore), plus about a month of standby between charges. Seems just about right considering how infrequently anyone in the developing world would be likely to use this phone. But easily one of the most crowded stands at the show. I guess it’s kind of like stalking your old crush on Facebook. Nice to see how they’ve done over the years, but probably still pretty happy you’ve moved on.
  • BlackBerry's KEYone brings its CrackBerry heritage to the Android OS, delivering a physical keyboard to the brand's long-suffering addicts. If this quickens your pulse, enjoy, but I found the physical keyboard with its tiny buttons harder and less forgiving than a typical touchscreen. I was never a huge fan and easily moved on almost a decade ago. So, are we facing a resurgent BlackBerry that will draw legions of former obsessives out of the smartphone forest (much like the gobs of zombies in the near certain impending apocalypse)? I wouldn’t bet on it.
  • Moscow-based, Elari, producer of the self-proclaimed “anti-smartphone” Cardphone 3G, has an interesting array of products for people looking to simplify. Their phones are generally small, with the Cardphone looking like a minimalist calculator that can fit in your wallet. I think this is the phone that Walter “Heisenberg” White wishes he'd had as his second “business" phone.