I’ve been in Barcelona – or, rather, near Barcelona – for a few days for Formula One Winter Testing, and as is often the case, the event times well with the Mobile World Congress. The Mobile World Congress 2015, or MWC15, is the annual gathering and trade show for those in the mobile industry. I was lucky enough to get an invite to go and have a look, and it is quite a show. If you think you know the big players in the mobile industry, then there are probably still plenty of names here that may be new for you. I was told that the scale of the show is quite incredible, and as I used to regularly attend the World Travel Market in London’s Excel centre, I thought I had a good idea.
It turns out, it is much bigger than that. The Fira Grand Via – the main venue near Barcelona’s El Prat airport – has nine main halls, all of which are used, as well as spill over into other venues near by. The world’s media seem to be there, and you cannot walk far without seeing interviews being recorded. It feels like the world’s biggest concentration of television cameras as well as the mobile industry, although I’m sure that’s just my imagination. I did spot the team from BBC’s Click there.
There are some major product launches at the event. I went along to see the unveiling of the Samsung Galaxy S6. Whilst face on, this looks familiar, the really impressive view is from the side. The phone is remarkably slim. It generated a huge amount of interest, and was probably the most popular stand that I saw.
There were plenty of other new products on display. IKEA were talking about their new furniture products that can wirelessly charge phones and similar products, and will be on sale in the UK in April 2015. However, I saw less publicity outside the event for the clever watch from LG that I was told would include translation from various languages including English, Japanese, Korean and others, including voice recognition. That sounded very impressive, like a step towards a real Babel Fish.
There were plenty of watches there, which seemed far from futuristic, more like they were now commonplace. Wearable technology was everywhere, and as well as cameras and watches that you might expect, there were t shirts, bags, and all sorts.
Virtual Reality was also a popular option, and of those that I tried, that by a South African software provider called Briteplan. Although I was sitting on a chair in an industrial estate in Spain, I seemed to be onboard a child’s train set, and whizzed around a house on a track, like a roller coaster. I could turn my head in any direction that my neck would allow, and my view was perfectly in alignment. What amazed me most – other than that my body was convinced that I was on a roller coaster – was that this kit costs a couple of hundred pounds and the VR world that I was in was quick, easy and cheap to develop. Amazing. We will see more of this.
There were also plenty of vehicles to be seen. Some were more traditional, others frameworks for future transport. All of them were about embedding mobile technology in cars and to bring together communications, sat nav, and onboard computer activities. AT&T had an impressive area including a car – and another VR tour – telling me all about their mobile enabled home and car technologies. It felt like the world of the Jetsons is getting closer.
Cameras and navigation suppliers, like GoPro and Garmin, had impressive stands, and there were plenty of companies that you might associate with other areas of technology rather than mobile were also there. There were also plenty of providers of fun and games.
There were some robotics to be seen, and the one that impressed me much was the one that mirrored the person operating it, so quickly that the robot and operator looked in sync. Here’s a little video.
You can imagine the practical application when the operator is remote from the device. Medical, dangerous situations, and areas were the operator’s skills are in short supply, and they cannot be everywhere they need to be.
You can also meet those who supply your mobile accessories, including all sorts of gadgets that you didn’t know you needed.
There were some quirky gadgets, including a barista screen that felt like you were talking to a coffee maker through a window, not on a screen, before coffee was dispatched to you through a hatch.
There were some nationalities represented too, and as well as those you would expect, there were a few you might not too. Iran, Turkey and Morocco all had collections of stands. I was particularly impressed, of course, to see a good stand from Northern Ireland.
There were plenty of guest speakers too, with Mark Zuckerberg and Cherie Blair among those on the various stages. The instructions to find the event gave you an idea of the size and scale, with details on where your chauffeur could drop you off and how to attend the ministerial, VIP, Gold and Silver sessions.
2015 is, as has been mentioned many times, the year to which Marty McFly went in Back To The Future, and it is de rigour to follow that fact up with a moan about our lack of self fastening trainers and hoverboards. However, given some of the technology that is on display at MWC15, there are plenty of devices that are much beyond anything we might have guessed thirty years ago. A device in our hands that gives access to almost the whole range of human knowledge anywhere in the world, and used by millions of us, is far from new. We take a portal communicator on which we can video call anyone for granted. We can instantly communicate with people we have never met through shared interests. Virtual reality and robotics are increasingly mature technologies. We are moving from wearable to embedded technology. All of that seems a far cry from 1985 when my Sinclair Spectrum seemed pretty impressive. If there is an MWC45, I cannot even begin to predict what will be there, but no doubt, even if I did predict what the world would be like thirty years hence, I would be no more accurate than the makers of Back To The Future.