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Musings from Mobile World Congress 2017 - “A Lot of Technology – Not A Lot of Innovation”

March 25, 2017

 

 

 

Having just returned from attending the 2017 Mobile World in Barcelona, which is the biggest mobile technology conference in the world, I was left with the reality that Mobile World had an amazing display of technologies; but sadly there was a lack of applied innovation for these technologies.

 

There were plenty of companies (2200 exhibitors) in attendance displaying their technology, describing their improvements over previous versions of their particular technology, and how their technologies can be used in current use cases. However, there were very few companies that were describing their technology in compelling new innovative use cases, or addressing how their technology could solve new problems or create better innovative situations specifically focused on the user experience.

 

Here are just some of my takeaways from the Mobile World event.

 

Mobile handsets:

 

There were plenty of mobile handset manufacturers, but how many different versions of Android devices can the market sustain, and how many more sensors or camera improvements can be made in order to provide a higher user value to encourage upgrading or increased usage?

 

Here the focus is on cost - can the handset cost be driven to a point where it can achieve full market penetration in the developing economies? It is no longer an innovation challenge but an operational focus, which means that any new innovation will be around the software and services side.  

 

One of the clear examples of operators pivoting into the services arena is the work that they are focusing around utilizing identity and authentication to lead the innovation into providing services to their customers.

 

In my opinion, if the telephone operators are successful on translating their customer knowledge into frictionless experiences that deliver trust and interoperability with background or external services, they will automatically become the owners of the customer identity enabling them the ability to monetize those services at a great rate of growth than their current business models provide.

 

This will change the paradigm of mobile services, as the telephone operators will be able to harvest and control the interaction that they have with their end users. If they embrace this new model, the telephone operator can become the leading innovators and create a new revenue source, or they can hamper any additional innovation as they will be the primary conduit to the end user.

 

Mobile connect is their Trojan horse, providing a seamless interaction to the end user, while leveraging the capabilities of the operators' platforms and properly disconnecting the identity and authentication process from the application & current service provider. (Full disclosure – We are currently performing Applied Research focused on High Assurance Mobile Authentication)

 

By owning identity, the operators will be able to provide highly targeted end user services that other providers will not have access to them. That is the power of identity & authentication ownership and management, and the telephone operators have identified it as a way of differentiation and value creation with their users.

Internet of Things Platforms:

 

The second technology that was very present at the conference were IoT Platforms.

Sadly none of these platforms stood out as they all looked the same, had the same capabilities and similar dashboards.

 

In my opinion, the real innovation will be the development and integration of new interfaces to the many connected devices.  Interfaces that are conversational, and use Artificial Intelligence & Machine Language to gather the requested information from multiple platforms, devices or data streams, and turn a single view or relationship into an action that is derived from the aggregation of multiple layers of information to answer a single request or breaking down the silos of information to benefit the user.

 

The IoT market is no longer looking for a single vendor product or solution, instead, it is looking for a mashup of multiple vendors, with unique capabilities and a single view for the users. The development of platform aggregators that can rapidly enable application developers to use best of class sensors or capabilities will continue to fuel the value that interconnected systems & devices can bring to the market.

 

Autonomous vehicles:

 

As much as the external vehicles looked somewhat different, the internal workings of their technology seemed to all be the same. The disappointment here is the lack of presentation of innovative use cases showing the revolutionary vision of the autonomous vehicle not depicted as the next step in car development, but as the creation of a mobile delivery platform that will reform the way that we interact with vehicles and the services that they perform.

 

The impact of this new platform approach (embraced and well represented by Ford), will revolutionize all aspects of our daily lives, introducing new services and opportunities, while unlocking us from the responsibility of actual ownership of a vehicle to achieve independence and mobility.

 

Imagine the day that you no longer are required to own a vehicle, but still, retain all of the benefits of individual mobility. The day where supply chains are shortened due to logistical improves driven by autonomous delivery platforms that can move goods from point A to point B directly, bypassing distributors or aggregators.  Imagine the impact that this could have on our growing senior population, as they can regain the mobility that they naturally lose with age and enable them to continue to expand their social circles improving their quality of life. That to me is some of the impacts that these new platforms will have on our daily lives.

 

In my opinion, this is no longer a transformational technology but will be the underpinnings of a revolution that was initiated by share rides such as Uber and Lift.  If embraced by automotive companies this revolution will enable new ways of mobility for individuals, goods, and services. It will have the same impact that the mobile platform has had on society.  I just wish that these opportunities were better highlighted during the event, rather than the showing of the technology that is defining these platforms.

 

Wearables:

 

This was a painful area to watch, as here the technology seems to be looking for use cases that can scale, and it was clear that they are not finding them.

 

In my opinion, the issues with wearable’s are the following:

Too much of a focus on a one to one relationship between the device and the mobile handset – The value of the wearable diminishes as the mobile handset continues to enhance its features, battery life, and applications, as customers are looking for a one to multiple relationships that is centered around their needs, not a single relationship with a wearable device that is disconnected from the rest of their activity.

 

This single focus on smart watches and the impetuous to fit more technology into the same device, without a clear value proposition to the end user is not innovation, but it is increasing the disconnect between the possible value that wearable technology can provide and the perceived value that the user receives. The value of wearables is being felt in specific targeted uses cases, the industry has to find a way where the stickiness of the product extends beyond the first few months of use – extending the battery use is one small issue – the larger one is a consumption problem – why would end users use the product for extended periods of time? What is the value for them and their daily lives? What do they gain by using it?

 

Robots :

 

I saw a lot of humanoid looking robots that were just standing around because the market is really consuming single event and focused robots – the humanoid provides a great show but what is the application? What is the value behind it?

 

This was very disappointing, as this is where innovation is being trumped by marketing.

 

The value of robots is not on their humanoid capabilities, but on the impact that they are having on supply chain roles, manufacturing, healthcare & security. Highlighting such achievements and use cases would have been a better use of their technology, instead of having a humanoid butler standing around and looking out of place.

 

In summary

 

So, if you have the opportunity to attend Mobile World Conference 2018 – I would encourage you to do it. I think the opportunity to see, touch and feel the technology is unique, and hopefully, by then, organizations will gain a better understanding of what customers are looking for when it comes to innovation that is meaningful and not just focused on the technology or better gadgets.

 

Or better yet, imagine a conference where you see innovation using the technology platforms that are available to drive societal change. Now, that would be a Mobile World Conference to remember.

 

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