MWC 2016 WRAP
Set amid Barcelona’s cobblestoned streets, imbued with centuries of culture and chaos, MWC gives a glimpse into the future of mobiles. And some of today’s tech may have shocked even Salvador Dali’s old-school surreal floppy clocks bolt upright.
While the congress is all about mobile phone innovations, this year its focus shifted: everything surrounding the smartphone was centre stage. Such as VR, 360-degree cameras and the Internet of Things (IoT). And, accordingly, their platforms and ecosystems.
Despite smartphones slowing down in terms of innovation, plenty of them were released. More than 40 new models from over 20 global manufacturers were launched at MWC.
And it is this saturated smartphone market that is inspiring innovation.
“Hardware manufacturers are building an ecosystem of virtual reality enabled smartphones and accessories,” Optus attendees stated in an MWC report. “VR provides differentiation within the saturated smartphone market.”
VIRTUAL REALITY: SAY CHEESE IN 360 DEGREES
Not only did Samsung launch the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge – with their sharp new 12MP or 16MP cameras – they were also launched via Virtual Reality. It worked like this. If you had a Samsung Gear VR headset, you could “attend” the launch in real time, from virtually anywhere in the world, with the right broadband connection.
Say you were in Sydney – and chose to get up at 4am that day – you could have put on your Samsung Gear VR headset and “been at” the live launch in Barcelona. You could have swivelled your head, and seen the crowd around you as you sat on the edge of the stage. You’d have heard people clapping, ooh-ing and ah-ing in real time.
You’d have watched as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg sprung down the aisle extolling the future of the 360-degree camera and VR. Facebook recently spent $US2 billion on VR company Oculus, and Zuckerberg spoke of consumers driving VR uptake through online sharing.
Samsung used its pre-existing Gear VR headset for its Unpacked launch, while Alcatel onetouch showcased its IDOL 4S which is packaged in a plastic box that doubles as a budget VR headset. Meanwhile LG announced its new LG 360 VR headset. In each case, the VR headset is compatible with its brand’s smartphone.
VR CAMERAS, BRANDS AND ECOSYSTEMS
Samsung also announced its Gear 360 camera at Barcelona. As did South Korean giant LG, with its LG 360 Cam. These 360-degree cameras create stand-alone VR content and are compatible with their brand’s latest smartphone and VR headset, drawing consumers into their respective sticky eco-systems.
Meanwhile the Vuze VR camera was also released this year. All three of these VR cameras have relatively affordable price-points, compared to the previous VR cameras, coming in under $US1000.
The improved affordability of 360-degree cameras, alongside flagship smartphones, suggests video as VR’s foreseeable future. This is a departure from VR headsets being mainly seen as a “gaming” add-on, according to an intelligence report on MWC Barcelona, by GMSA, the group that represents mobile operators worldwide.
Moreover, VR headsets are linking to smartphones instead of desk computers, suggesting that manufacturers are targeting a larger, global market base.
“By bundling VR headsets and 360-degree cameras with their smartphones, the larger vendors are creating greater consumer lock-in, as well as a potential groundswell of user-generated content,” according to GSMA.
However, uncertainty of VR’s key purpose and proposition remains: is it primarily for gaming, or for so-called “prosumers” to produce video content, upload and share it. This uncertainty is driving brand fragmentation in the VR space, GSMA stated.
INTERNET OF THINGS
The Internet of Things, or IoT, remained a hot topic at Barcelona this year. The IoT is simply everyday objects that are embedded with computing devices that connect via the internet, allowing everyday objects to send and receive data.
Key areas of interest are home automation, car connectivity and wearables.
On the home automation front, use cases included Smartphone apps and stand-alone hubs.
For example, South Korean SK Telecom’s Smart Home platform uses a smartphone as the central hub for home automation. It’s akin to a universal remote control operating compatible appliances throughout the home.
From clocks, garage doors, speakers and blinds to pet feeders, surveillance cameras and lamps, it’s all possible to automate. With some caveats, of course. Compatibility is key – not all software connectors work with all devices, or all hubs. There is a handy linking service called If This Then That (IFTTT) which has pre-made recipes that can connect certain devices to each other.
The joy in home automation is in the simple things. Such as remotely switching off the kitchen light, finding your misplaced phone, or turning up the thermostat from the snug safety of your bed.
MWC also showcased Sony’s Xperia Agent, a dedicated home automation hub. Commands can be spoken to activate it, such as: “Agent, turn off the bathroom light”. It’s along the same lines as the Amazon Echo, which is mainly controlled by Amazon’s Alexa voice command platform.
But for the IoT to reach its full potential, two issues need to be developed. First, there needs to be better security for data that is being transmitted. Second, we need a more mature network that can not only handle speeds similar to 4G, but larger numbers of simultaneous transmissions: the fifth generation network, or 5G. And it’s on its way. For more on these, see our next MWC article.
WEARABLES WITHIN THE IOT
Wearables – the touchy-feely part of the IoT – include wristbands, headsets and smartwatches.
This year’s MWC had three times as many wearables as last year’s, according to Meg Forster, Director, Innovation and Value Added Products at Optus. All up, there were 167 wearables on display. Of these, 153 were aimed at consumers, the other 14 at industry. And of the consumer wearables, 70 were smart watches and just 30 fitness trackers.
Wearables for children were also well represented. There were 18 on display, compared with only two last year.
Leading the way in wearables were Augmented Reality (AR) headsets. An everyday example of AR is a television screen which flashes up score updates during a sports match. AR presents layers of information into a user’s real-world view, enhancing, or augmenting, reality. This makes AR distinctive from VR, which is a fully immersive experience. For example, when watching the Samsung launch in VR, you would only see and hear visuals and audio from the launch. Nothing from your actual environment would be shown through the VR headset.
AR is usually developed as a headset so that it can be used hands-free. Potential industry benefits are huge: MWC heard of a recent Boeing study in which engineers relying on AR tablets could complete tasks 30 per cent faster and with 90 per cent more accuracy than when relying on a static PDF guide.
But further development of AR products hinges upon the use case, and their potential for solid and rapid economic return. One practical area for AR, according to GSMA, is in remote assistance, whereby centralised specialists can advise colleagues in the field.
The Optus Wholesale team continues to deliver mobile service providers with market insights and innovative telco solutions. For more visit Optus Wholesale