Mobile World Congress 2016
Last February, Mobile World Congress descended on Barcelona’s Gran Fira once again to show the world what innovative products are on their way to consumers’ homes and pockets. Assurant were in attendance to walk the 9 vast halls looking for the innovative and interesting tech that will shape the future of the mobile and associated industries. Here’s a round-up of what we found:
- Virtual reality will be everywhere
- The potential for everything to be connected in smart cities
- Manufacturers are driving more innovation
FROM SMART HOMES TO SMART CITIES
Internet of Things has been a focus at these types of events for some time and as you would expect there was a plethora of sensor-laden items that manufacturers believe will be adopted into our everyday lives. The Innovation City exhibition delivered a really interesting insight into how these devices will evolve to work together in the future, not just in a single home, but across an entire city, a Smart City. AT&T had a large presence in this area, with a Virtual Reality demo that put you in the shoes of a future city worker in a control room who could pinpoint the exact location of a burst water pipe and redirect the water remotely.
EVEN SMARTER CARS
Our cars today are already pretty smart; they know when there’s ice on the road, they can tell if it’s raining and fairly shortly they’ll be able to drive themselves, so if all that data was able to be collected and analysed it could help in many areas, not least traffic management. This is why AT&T have partnered with Audi to equip some models with an embedded LTE SIM card and Android based infotainment system. This allows the entire instrument display to be used for Google Maps Navigation, or, when the car is stationary, Twitter, Facebook or watching TV. It’s also clear that the software base for these cars will be fought in the same way that it is in the mobile phone industry with manufacturers choosing to implement Android Auto and Apple Carplay, or taking their own route for development such as Ford Sync.
5G is the next generation of cellular networks and enables incredibly fast data transfer speeds to support the connected cities of the future. Adoption is likely to be a slow process, as recently seen with the rollout of 4G/LTE but once widespread it could spell the end for traditional phone line based Internet Service Providers and make installation as simple as just putting a SIM card in a router and plugging in a power cable.
VR is seen by many in the industry as “the next big thing” with headsets and demos appearing on lots of different stands. In some cases this was just a novel way to showcase a product but for some of the big manufacturers it was to show off t
heir own take on VR. Samsung certainly set the bar high with their Gear VR 4D Rollercoaster, which used the Gear VR headset, an accessory included with the Galaxy S7 range, along with some clever hydraulics on the chairs to give riders the feeling of actually being on a real rollercoaster. The experience was very convincing, and the screams from fellow riders certainly added to the rollercoaster feeling. Samsung’s approach to using a relatively cheap headset accessory for the phone as the centre of the VR experience could be the facilitator for the majority of people to experience VR. This approach was shared by LG with their 360VR glasses; an accessory to the newly announced G5 smartphone, although their incarnation was attached to the phone by a cable rather than inserting it into the headset, which means the device is considerably lighter and smaller. However, the VR thunder was stolen by HTC’s high-end Vive headset. The Vive takes a different approach to the Gear VR and 360VR by using a high end PC rather than a phone to drive the experience. This along with two hand controllers, two motion sensors mounted on the wall, and a headset with multiple cameras and sensors allows the Vive to truly transport you to a different place, whether that is swimming with a giant blue whale or shooting spaceships on a different planet. Once you start using the system it is impossible not to get drawn into what’s happening in the virtual world, much to the amusement of those watching! It’s easy to see how VR will have a huge impact on gaming, but it’s also evident that it could have many practical applications, such as in industrial applications enabling an individual to control a robotic arm remotely. Closely related to VR is augmented reality which overlays a virtual world on the real world. There were lots of examples of this for industrial uses, such as glasses in a factory that helped the wearer identify what was in containers by simply scanning the bar code and then displaying the contents to the wearer.
MORE MANUFACTURER INNOVATION
Manufacturers are starting to drive innovation in their hardware as a way to differentiate themselves from the other Android devices flooding the market. Lenovo were showing off resilient devices with waterproofing and anti-smash screens while LG’s 2016 flagship G5 phone sported a modular design at the bottom of the device that allows users to add additional capabilities with a range of swappable bases. Available at launch is a battery expanding camera grip with phys
ical focus and shutter controls along with a hi-def audio add on designed in conjunction with B&O. LG have promised that many more optional components are on the way. Mainstream adoption of these technologies, particularly Lenovo’s, will impact the traditional Mobile Phone Insurance industry increasing the importance of developing service and assistance propositions.
One of the more interesting innovations came from a small UK start-up called FlexEnable whohave developed a flexible transistor technology which enables completely flexible electronics, including LCD & LED screens. Demonstrations of the tech involved a screen that could be wrapped around a pencil, and a bracelet with a display that curved all the way around the wearer’s wrist. FlexEnable are alread
y in talks with some Chinese phone manufacturers so we should be seeing this tech in real world gadgets within the next 18 months.
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (AI)
Sony had some really interesting new concepts to showcase alongside their new flagship Xperia X including a vision of how AI in the form of personal assistants will enable far more personal computing experiences.The Xperia Ear concept in particular was very reminiscent in both form and function to the AI featured in the Spike Jonze film Her. Giving the wearer contextually aware information about messages, notifications, weather, news and responding to natural language requests in the same way another person would.
COMBINING MULTIPLE PRODUCTS INTO ONE
Some manufacturers took an approach of converging formerly separate products into a single product line to differentiate themselves from their rivals. Lenovo have been pioneers in this space with their tablet projectors and they had numerous new models on display capable of projecting HD images at reasonable brightness. ZTE had also gone down the projector tablet route with their device focusing more on the projector, delivering a very high performance but sacrificing thinness and delivering a very thick tablet by today’s standards. LG ventured in a slightly different direction with a home security camera “ball” that could roam around a house by itself, but also become a toy when paired with a smartphone app that allows it to be controlled like an RC car! The other interesting convergence spotted was from CAT who had integrated a Thermal Imaging scanner into a phone’s camera for use in industrial environments.
Wearables and Smart Watches were dotted around the show with most manufacturers debuting some new ideas including ashion house Guess Jeans and traditional watch manufacturer Tag Heuer. The latter were even offering a discounted traditional watch if you decide that smart watches aren’t for you. Fitness was very much a driving factor with wearables evidenced best by HTC’s partnership with Under Armour to develop a range of products specifically designed for use in sports. Alongside fitness, pets and children were also a focus for many manufacturers, with location being the key trend for children and collars which count the number of steps for pets. The most bizarre wearable device was found on ZTE’s stand; a fishing watch with connected Sonar Ball which could provide a read out on your watch of how many fish there are in the water and how big they are. The only thing they weren’t able to show is how you get the ball back at the end of the day!
BUY BACK & DEVICE RECYCLING
Finally, an area of great interest to us at Assurant is the buyback / trade-in / recycling of devices. This is a thriving industry with many organisations from different sectors finding solutions. This ranges from manufacturers and distributors looking to sew up both the supply of new devices and the trade-in of used ones, through to software companies providing valuations to devices based on a thorough health-check of the internals / battery etc. Innovative solutions for collecting and delivering phones such as the Cellomat kiosk were present with the focus being on improving customer experience through reduction in timescales for re-connection . This can give customers an additional fulfillment option for same unit repair, advanced exchange or trade-in.