Mobile World Congress Day One – First Impressions

Monday 24 February 2014 22.22

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By Will Goodbody, Science & Technology Correspondent in Barcelona

@willgoodbody

As a first time visitor to Mobile World Congress, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I knew it would be big, though not quite as enormous as it is. Set across eight massive halls, each equivalent in size or bigger than the RDS Simmonscourt, even getting around is a challenge.

The other thing you notice is the international nature of the delegates. Telecoms and the internet are global, and so too is the reach of Mobile World Congress.

The day was of course punctuated by a series of glitzy, overblown tech launches by the biggest manufacturers, which invariably hogged the limelight. But what was most obvious was the absence of a ground breaking genuinely new device or technology. Sure, we got Sony’s new 4k video recording smartphone, the Z2. And Samsung unveiled its new curved screen Gear Fit health monitoring wrist band. But again nothing massively new here. It’s an overly used word in the techosphere, but all we really got were iterations or new versions of existing products.

Another observation was the number of cars on display in the main halls. Most of the world’s biggest manufacturers are here showing off their mobile connected vehicles. Cars that can sense danger on the road, can automatically summon help in the event of an accident, and that one day will drive themselves. Mobile tech is set to be a big deal for the auto industry “going forward” (forgive me, it’s late!).

What else? Well device manufacturers are clearly now seeing the limitations of the deluxe high-end of the market. Growth for many established electronics and telecom companies over the coming years will come from the massive untapped potential of emerging markets, not from selling shiny top end handsets at €500 a pop to middle class consumers in the west. It’s clearly what Nokia is thinking, as it launches the X range of smartphones running the Android OS. And many others are also following suit.

Finally, the venue at MWC is festooned with Near Field Communication (NFC) points. NFC is a wireless technology that allows the transfer of information between devices at close range, and is being used for marketing, payment and other functions. But while the promoters were pushing it hard, it was notable that despite being a “trend” at previous MWCs and similar trade shows, NFC has yet to really take off. Part of that may be due to the slow proliferation of NFC enabled devices. But I also wonder whether proponents of it have done enough to convince users of its merit.

So Day 1 is over. Tomorrow is another day.

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