And so the great and the good of the mobile marketing world return home shattered, slightly dishevelled and, in theory, a whole lot wiser as to what the future of mobile marketing looks like.
Which is, of course, about much more than mobile phones and tablets. In the current definition of mobile marketing, the word ‘mobile’ relates less to a specific device than to a state of mind, an always-on society whose citizens’ lives are enriched by the connected nature of the world around them and all that’s in it, from phones and tablets at one end of the spectrum, to toothbrushes, vending machines, bikes and cars at the other.
Yes, there was plenty of that at Mobile World Congress, especially in Hall 3, where the GSMA had its Innovation City, complete with all manner of connected devices, including all of the above and many more, and several car-maker/network operator collaborations.
I liked the MediaTek 361, smart shoes for kids, the result of a collaboration between chip-maker MediaTek and shoe-maker 361. A GPS module in the heel of the shoes enables parents to monitor where their kids are via a companion app. The shoes go on sale next month in China only, priced at the equivalent of around £50 a pair. How long it will be before one of the little IT-literate cherubs hacks the heels to convince his parents he’s at school as he should be when he and his mates are actually down the local park skateboarding is a moot point.
I also liked the Mode-Pro concept bike on the Ford stand (though sadly, there’s no roadmap for the production model of this one as yet). Plug in your smartphone to act as the navigation device, key in your destination and start pedalling (or use the onboard motor if you’re feeling lazy). When you feel the handlebar vibrating under your left or right hand, you know it’s time to turn the bike that way to stay on course. It’s not quite in the driverless car league perhaps, but it is an indication of the way UX designers are approaching the world of things that aren’t phones in order to feedback information to the user. And if it ever does advance to the stage of the driverless bike, I for one will be first in the queue.
There were lots of other wearables, primarily smart watches, on display too, of course. But for all that, when you ventured into Hall 5 and wandered around the massive stands of the phone, tablet and phablet makers, it was a reminder that the original reason this show existed was as a place where network operators could come to see who is making the best devices and what they should be stocking to give them a competitive edge, and by the same token for the handset-makers to pitch their wares.
And that remains as true today as it was 20 years ago, as evidenced by the guy I saw bigging up the Galaxy 6 and 6 Edge on stage on the Samsung stand as part of a hugely slick, smooth presentation designed to catch the eye of any passing delegates who might be in the market for a few million shiny handsets.
For while the show has morphed into something much bigger, incorporating mobile marketing (though predominantly the ‘advertising’ bit of ‘marketing’), and wider digital tech, telecoms, including phones, tablets, and more lately smart watches, is still at its heart. And while it’s true that the GSMA has made great efforts in recent years to make Mobile World Congress a place where brands want to come, it’s true also that some of the unaffiliated events taking place alongside MWC in Barcelona last week were also successful in attracting brands and, some might argue, of more value to them.
This is not the place to blow our own trumpet, but as a case in point, the two Mobile Brand Masterclasses we ran last Tuesday were well attended and left both sponsors and the brand delegates who attended satisfied with the experience. Elsewhere, I also heard good things from the 4YFN (4 Years From Now) show that took place at the old Fira, where MWC itself was staged until a couple of years ago.
Given its size, reputation and history, I don’t think MWC’s future is under any threat from these and the many other events that took place in Barcelona last week. But it will be interesting to see going forward the extent to which the mobile marketing and advertising firms stick with MWC, and how many choose instead to support one of the smaller shows, or, as already happens, do their own thing in the city, knowing they can meet an awful lot of the people they want to meet, at a fraction of the cost of a showpiece stand at the main event.