I expected Mobile World Congress (MWC) to be packed with all the latest shiny tech the world has to offer - sure enough the bendy screen grabbed a lot of attention - but to my delight, it all felt so much more fun and positive than my last visit a few years ago.
Insight into how we will be interacting with technology
I went to Barcelona last week to participate in the 4 Years From Now (#4yfn) innovation and start-up event that runs alongside MWC. My reason for attending the main congress halls was to quickly assess how we will all be interacting with technology in the coming years. I only had time to visit Hall 3 where the world’s biggest technology brands put on their show. But more important to me than the actual tech was watching how the show attendees were engaging with the displays and demonstrations, as this gives me a good indicator to how we will might all be interacting soon.
Can we be parted from our screens and hand-held devices?
Natural interaction’ was in full effect at the show. From cars to scooters, laptops to lightbulbs, washing machines to TVs, natural interaction with connected devices and the internet of things (IoT) is developing at a pace to enable us to control these devices using voice, touch and gesture.
But I was left wondering just how ready we are to part with our hand-held devices as I noted that all the games and activities that required gesture control alone were being played by the stand staff rather than visitors – suggesting we aren’t ready for that yet? When even the world’s geekiest, technical execs are still clinging to actual devices to feel comfortable interacting, the rest of us will probably take a while to get there.
Augmented Reality has really grown up
In contrast, all the Augmented Reality (AR) demonstrations, games and activities were very popular. One Augmented Reality laser shoot up game gave me a fit of the giggles – the future might look a bit bonkers - was I watching four men shooting each other through phones, or witnessing the weirdest dance moves ever! Despite being very interested in Microsoft’s Hololens I didn’t have enough time on the day to wait 90 minutes in line for their show. The queue alone is enough to demonstrate that AR is finally coming of age with some great examples of real-world industrial examples already in action in the field.
I expect augmented reality to grow rapidly in the next couple of years especially when combined with the rise in voice assistants – It’s becoming easier to see a time when our phone handsets and screens become less central to the way in which we all engage with the Internet.
AR and Voice will improve how we travel
NEC Corp had a great concept video looking at how we could all start to experience augmented reality and voice interaction. They used the everyday life of a group of tourists whose taxi automatically handled translation and a rickshaw they rode had an AR display with supporting tour information.
The BMW concept car showed what luxury travel could look like in an autonomous car, but for me it was SEAT that somewhat surprisingly stole the whole show. Their Minimo concept car with Android Auto showed a future world of city travel that will be cleaner and more fun … plus their stand had a quite stunning animation, was almost totally orange – which had me on side from the outset!
The voice assistant race gathers pace
I totally loved the Google Boulevard too. It was fresh, and importantly for such a gigantic indoor tradeshow, it was outside in the Barcelona sunshine. As far as I could tell all the Google technologies shown are already in the public domain, but they did a great job at demonstrating how they can fit together to give us a smarter world and again it all felt very uplifting and positive.
The Samsung stand was busy with the new Galaxy S10 devices and fun video-based activities. The company also took over a chunk of Barcelona’s Plaza Catalunya to show how we could all be living more comfortably at home with a range of devices controlled by the Bixby voice assistant.
All these brand experiences combined show that a sci-fi style future is now technically possible, but I suppose only the future will reveal how fast everyone adopts this brave new world and which of the tech giants ultimately gain control of the voice connected world.