It's not about the handsets
While the beautiful stands and the awesome technology on show from the mobile device manufacturers were impressive, the sense I got was that, nowadays, there is not that much to differentiate the top-end mobile products from each other.
The new Samsung Galaxy S5, Sony Xperia Z2, YotaPhone, Huawei MediaPad X1 and Lenovo S860 all have beautiful form and functionality but, to the uninitiated consumer, there is no longer such a divide between the handsets and tablets of the key players. More interesting is how these handheld devices will sit at the heart of a wider connectivity movement.
Connectivity and philanthropy
There was some pretty inspiring talk about connecting humanity as a whole. As in the early days of digital, there is now a race to connect and deliver accessibility to all; and, with the launch of affordable smartphones – such as Mozilla’s $25 device, built with Spreadtrum Communications – and Facebook’s "mobile first" Internet.org, the industry is starting to transform the less-developed world as well.
Facebook’s philanthropic call to action to offer messaging and communication as a basic human need could be transformational for the billions of unconnected people worldwide. But it could also be transformational, in not such a good way, for the network operators, which expressed growing concern that Facebook’s vision, and its purchase of WhatsApp, could leave them as no more than "dumb pipes".
Genuine collaboration from tech giants
There was investment and collaboration across industries taking place on the concourses and dinner tables of Barcelona. And attendees were told of the massive investment efforts already made by the giants of technology: from Ginni Rometty at IBM calling on developers to contribute their thinking and apps to its cloud-based Watson computer, to Facebook lending its business infrastructure and learnings to allow WhatsApp to focus on acquiring more users.
The real innovation these days comes from wider connectivity – of gadgets, household appliances and urban environments. To cite one of the most concisely coined phrases by the keynote speaker Tim Höttges, the chief executive of Deutsche Telekom: "Everything that is connected will be connected."
Wearable devices were prominent, such as Samsung’s Gear range and those seeking to win in the health-and-fitness market, including Sony’s SmartBand and Fitbit’s products. So, too, were connected devices, such as Oral-B’s smart toothbrush, which uses Bluetooth to connect to an app on your smartphone.
On a much grander scale, I saw the beginnings of connectivity across entire cities. The Connected Cities arena offered a vision of what connected cars, homes and bathrooms will look like. As Peter Blackshaw, the global chief of digital at Nestlé, suggested: "Mobile is now as ubiquitous as air and water."
Mobile for health
I also learned from the show how mobile is becoming an empowering force for how we manage our health – recording what we eat, how we sleep and how we exercise. And it will deliver advice and best practice to those in the developing world who wouldn’t otherwise have access to doctors.
It was claimed that the global mobile health market is poised to reach $20 billion in value by 2018.
So, in terms of advertising and marketing in mobile, there has never been more choice to reach and engage consumers. The technology and infrastructure are advancing at a pace, but research released via Rubicon Project reveals that investment in mobile advertising represented an average of just 7 per cent of total agency trading desk spend in 2013. However, that looks set to double in 2014.
Some advertisers are moving to understand the reality and opportunity of integrating mobile across platforms and marketing efforts. Those that don’t risk being left behind. An advertiser walking the floors of MWC could experience both excitement as well as anxiety about the race to just keep up with it all.
A single truth was confirmed in the venue’s overwhelmingly large halls (it took me 45 minutes to walk from one end of the conference to the other, even with the help of the travelators): mobile underpins every business – every advertiser – in every global market; every operator, every investor and every developer. Now, if Mark Zuckerberg can realise Facebook’s vision of a connected reality, together with the support of governments and operators, then mobile will also underpin every single person living on the planet today.
James Connelly is the chief executive and co-founder of Fetch