Once a year, everyone who’s anyone in mobile phones sets up camp in a mammoth conference centre in Barcelona for Mobile World Congress (or MWC to its friends). Think Davos, except rather than being filled with politicians and economists, there are people who have been hired to dress up as a giant phone.
The show brings together tens of thousands of executives, designers, developers and analysts, with everybody crammed into a building the size of an airport – which means half of their time is spent rushing from one side of the arena to the other.
MWC mainly offers a chance for manufacturers to show off their latest gadgets and apps: global giants like Samsung and Nokia rent out football-pitch sized stands, with row after row of phones and tablets to demo.
It is about more than just gadgets, though. All of the industry’s top executives show up, with the event providing a venue for a host of closed-door meetings. Even on my flight back to Heathrow I spotted one top mobile executive in an animated last-minute bout of discussions.
There was also a glimpse of prototype new technologies, which have varying chances of making it into the real world. Some of the more “interesting” ideas included a carpet with a microchip that measures dust, telling you when to vacuum, and a set of “Motorheadphones”, which as the name suggests, are simply headphones covered with logos of the 1980s metal group.
Amid the new devices, some themes began to emerge. One was the idea that almost all everyday objects will one day be connected to the internet; from your fridge to your thermostat.
One day soon, so I was told, our smartphones will be constantly buzzing with alerts telling us we need to buy milk or that the dishwasher is broken (in case texts, emails, tweets, likes and tags aren’t enough). The show even had a “connected city” booth, which showed a world in which everything from streetlights to motorbikes were internet-enabled, all designed to make our lives terrifyingly efficient.
Another recurring topic was mobile money – soon everyone will be waving their phone about to use the tube or pay for their lunch, rather than typing in PINs or messing around with cash. The only issue with this being that payment firms have been making the same pitch for the last four or five years.
Many inventions were impressive, although I get the impression they will take many years to catch on. Until then you will just have to make do with the gadgets listed above.