This week I took a trip to sunny Spain to check out the world’s largest conference for the mobile industry, MWC.
Hosted by the GSMA, the show features the latest portable technologies from the likes of Samsung and Sony, as well as showcasing independent devices from a whole host of international start-ups.
As a complete MWC virgin – and someone who rarely leaves Britain’s grey and cloudy shores – I had no idea what to expect from the 80,000 strong, Barcelona-based congress. Still, despite some initial reservations, I’d like to think that I
embraced the opportunity with open arms and wide-eyed optimism (the promise of free Estrella may have also helped).
Here are a few of the things I found out at this year’s show:
Wearables are already wearing out
The main thing I saw at Mobile World Congress was, well, mobiles.
Ok, admittedly that doesn’t sound like the most insightful observation; however it does raise an interesting point about the show. Despite all the hype surrounding wearable tech, it was actually the latest mobile phones that drew the biggest crowds. If anything, the various smartwatches were positioned less as the “main event” and more as convenient add-ons for the next generation of smartphones.
While there were a few exceptions to this rule (Fitbit and Huawei spring to mind), for the most part it feels like wearable technology is just fizzling away on the sidelines. Despite virtually every major provider launching some sort of smartwatch, they all seem to be waiting for someone to fire the starting pistol on consumer adoption. Cue Apple Watch.
Virtual Reality is virtually a reality
From Samsung’s smartphone-compatible Gear VR, through to the long-awaited Valve gaming headset, virtual reality was the gimmick of choice at this year’s MWC. As a natural sceptic of all “revolutionary” new technologies, I dropped by the SK Telecom stand to try out a demo for myself.
On first inspection the headset was exactly as I had expected – a clunky black rectangle with a screen so close to my eyes that I could almost hear my retinas screaming. Once the demonstration got underway however, it was amazing just how quickly my brain started to adapt to the virtual environment.
In a matter of minutes my eyes had adjusted and the pixelated screen was nothing more than an extension of my vision. Even without the addition of gesture recognition or VR gloves, the ability to look around a 360-degree landscape was a stunning experience.
The only slight downside was that the standard of graphics currently resembles something from a mid-90s Nintendo 64 game. Somehow though, this almost didn’t matter. The sheer experience of virtual reality makes the quality of graphics seem irrelevant. If anything, it’s enough to make you throw away your fancy PS4 and fall in love with Banjo-Kazooie all over again.
Privacy just got personal
Between NSA spying and iCloud photo leaks, personal privacy was predicted to be hot on the agenda at this year’s MWC. And yet, virtually none of the large vendors made any attempt to address the issue. Those that did preferred to avoid the ‘P’ word and talk instead, in vague terms, of “individual security” and “data protection”. In fact, of the more mainstream mobile providers, Blackberry seemed to be the only one that was openly looking to address the issue with its new encryption-heavy Blackberry Leap.
Still, outside of the mainstream mobile market, several of the smaller handset providers were doing their bit to jump on the post-NSA bandwagon. One of the better examples of this was Blackphone 2, the second custom handset from Silent Circle.
Specialising in data protection and personal privacy, Blackphone runs a customised ‘PrivatOS’ that provides high-level data encryption for all calls, texts and media usage. Also present at the show was Silent Circle’s lesser-known competitor, LockPhone, which offers a similar enterprise security option and AES encryption.
While both of these options provide a far higher degree of protection than their mainstream competitors, they both require that all parties involved have the relevant decryption software installed. As such, both LockPhone and Blackphone are unable to send encrypted messages to any other mobile devices, restricting their relevance to the enterprise market.