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Mobile World Congress 2015: Samsung, Microsoft and smartwatches

By Jarkko Leppälahti

BARCELONA, Spain – For the mobile industry, Barcelona was the place to be last week. Mobile World Congress, the largest gathering on the industry calendar, brought together almost every stakeholder in mobile for four days of launches, checking out exhibitors, gossip, presentations, schmoozing and parties. A number of us in the Futurice team, a Finnish creative technology company with offices in Berlin, London, Tampere and Helsinki, headed over.

One of the things that was immediately noticeable was how much bigger the 4 Years From Now event had become since last year. Attracting sponsorship from the likes of Audi, Sabadell and Telefonica, it was fantastic to have so many startups orbiting Mobile World Congress, helping to turn what has typically been a bit of an elephants’ dance in to more of a lean Macarena.

The discussions and workshops of 4YFN, many dealing with the relentless march of mobile disruption across different ecosystems and attended by people from more than 70 countries, showed a constantly changing scene where people are working hard to find better ways of doing things.

Galaxy S6 is rising star?
The event seems more like a kind of a training ground from which companies can work their way up to the real MWC. Not everyone will make it, of course, but the bigger companies at the conference can still learn a thing or two from everyone there.

Naturally, there is still a huge attraction to the main MWC conference and with a number of device launches, the congress was bigger than ever.

Samsung’s launch of the Galaxy S6 Edge was perhaps one of the stars of the show in terms of devices. It will be interesting to see if this can help turn the company’s finances around, given the disappointing results it has posted previously.

The S6 will tell if it is going to rebound or if it will be the next Nokia. Initial reactions are that it is a beautiful device but with no word yet on pricing, we will have to see if consumers agree.

Samsung is looking to put a stake in the ground for 2015 and beyond to entice consumers back to its devices. We can expect a mammoth marketing budget to help push the GS6.

The launch of the S6 and S6 Edge, its curved screen variant, as well as the Huawei Media Pad X2 phablet, also highlighted the fact that design is becoming more of a focus for companies such as Samsung and Huawei. This trend will continue to grow in importance with wearables.

Microsoft is perhaps the last company you thought would be going against corporate culture but these guys were on fire at MWX – with the introduction of all sorts of new things such as Hololens.

The Microsoft stand was completely different from all other manufacturers: green artificial grass, hot air balloon under which two DJs were playing, and a warm, welcoming atmosphere for both corporate suits as well as scrappy Windows Phone developers.

Where to wear
Wearables continued to gain momentum this year, too. Perhaps one area they have previous struggled with is general aesthetics.

Here is a device that consumers will have to want to put on their body. It is not like a phone that you can just put in a bag or a pocket. These devices will be on show.

How a wearable looks and feels is incredibly important. The potential game-changer in this area is still to come when the Apple Watch launches in April.

What we saw at MWC, however, was the market’s response to the Apple Watch and starting to champion design, realizing that a smartwatch needs to look like a watch.

After all, it has been said that technology is at its best when you do not notice it – when you are only conscious of what you are doing, not the device you are doing it on.

ALL IN ALL, I think the majority of MWC attendees will agree that the congress has become less about mobile in the traditional sense of focusing on the device.

Pretty much everything is now digitally connected and technology is being integrated into the world around us in a less apparently visible manner, only helping to make it more useful.

Jarkko Leppälahti is London-based acting managing director UK for Finnish technology firm Futurice. Reach him at [email protected]