109,000 people went to MWC 2019. And one cow. And Tim Green. Here is his round-up of all the big talking points from the Fira de Europa…

Did you see the cow?

The MWC cow. Located between halls 3 and 4. Looked like a Red Poll to me. I’m fairly certain it was the first cow to make an appearance at the world’s premier mobile expo.

Now, I think the official reason for its presence was to illustrate the power of 5G and the cellular IoT to transform agriculture.

But as I stared into its haughty face I couldn’t help but think: this steer is mocking us. It’s saying: you are the braying hordes. You are the cattle.

What a cheek, I thought, as I drifted with the 109,000 others up and down the FIRA waiting to have my lanyard stamped at every exit, and hoping to avoid the abattoir in Hall 2 (a GSMA experiment, which I’ve heard they won’t repeat next year).

I may have mooed once or twice, but that’s no reason to call me bovine.

Anyway, the cow was yet another reminder that MWC is now officially post-smartphone. Handsets are so incredibly good, there’s barely any room for improvement (foldables? we’ll see).

So all the excitement is about what’s on the inside: antennas, chipsets and all the other 5G paraphernalia. But the trouble with 5G is that you can’t see or touch it. However, you can put it in trucks, drones and, er, cows.

All of which contributed to the wonderful weirdness of MWC. Here are some of the biggest take-aways…

5G at MWC: cadavers

It’s great that 5G/IoT has the power to impact healthcare. But it’s alarming when this is demonstrated with a lifeless plastic cadaver on a stretcher. By Wednesday, we all knew how he felt.

5G at MWC: trucks

Cars have been a part of MWC for years now. So Kudos to Daimler for going one further and dropping a juggernaut into Hall 3.

5G at MWC: phones

It’s hard to get excited about 5G phones given that:

  1. they look like 4G phones
  2. you can’t use them yet

But no one wants to be left behind. So most OEMs now have a 5G phone on the roster: Samsung S10, LG, Moto, Huawei, OnePlus, ZTE…

5G at MWC: let’s disrupt musicians

You wait 10 years for a proper MWC band, and then two come along at the same time. Both Vodafone and NTT Docomo had the same idea: let’s demonstrate the low latency of 5G by having live musicians play with musicians on the other side of the world. Shame about the material (Karma Chameleon? Really?).

ZTE had robot musicians on its stand. Hard to see how their mechanised performance relied on 5G. Also, the robot pianist couldn’t play black notes.

5G at MWC: $2.2 trillion!

It’s anyone’s guess how big 5G will be. And by when. But guessing is what mobile does best (let’s call it ‘projecting’). GSMA’s Mobile Economy report – published at MWC – projected 5G will add $2.2 trillion to the global economy over the next 15 years. Crikey.

Nokia does a Gillette

For the past two years, Nokia has scored PR hits by reviving much loved retro handsets. This year, it revived a much forgotten one. The 808 Pureview was unveiled in 2012 with a mind boggling 41 MP camera. Everyone talked about the 808. But nobody bought one.

This year, Nokia rebooted it as the Nokia 9 Pureview with five cameras. Five! It all feels very ‘best a man can get’.

Foldable frenzy

Obviously, the Samsung and Huawei foldable phones were the only interesting thing to happen in smartphones this year. Sadly, we couldn’t touch them. They were kept behind glass. The questions remain. Should they fold out or in? Can they iron out the creases/hinges? Are they the next big thing or the 2019 equivalent of the 3D phones that made everyone sick at MWC 2011?

Goodbye notch, hello hole punch

When Apple debuted the notch, design purists clutched their handbags to the chests in horror. But soon this unsightly chin became a mark of quality. Everyone wanted one. Now, it looks as if the notch is giving way to the hole punch, with Samsung’s S10 leading the way. Still the race is on to launch a phone with a clean untainted screen, speaking of which…

Up periscope

Until phone makers find a way to embed a camera in a display, they will need to incorporate a lens. That would seem to rule out an all-screen phone. But there is one possible solution: the pop-up camera. Oppo has a model like this, and this year Archos previewed one too.

MWC is mostly male, but not the robots

We all know MWC is nowhere near diverse enough. GSMA says 24 per cent of attendees are female, but that’s plainly nonsense. RealNetworks’ revealed that 18 per cent of attendees that passed its SAFR facial recognition display were women. However, if you take away the women working in hospitality, the number is surely closer to 10 per cent. This is a complex problem, with no simple answers. But the good news is that the show’s small number of autonomous host robots are clearly ladies. This is excellent progress.

Paranoid Android wants to phase out passwords

Google revealed at MWC that Android is now FIDO2 certified. That could spell the end of passwords. Why? Because FIDO2 will make it possible to unlock your Android phone biometrically and then use it to log in to other services on other devices.

GSMA to government: play fair

The GSMA launched its ‘Mobile Industry Manifesto for Europe’ half way through MWC. It called on policymakers to ‘create the right conditions for a new era of Intelligent Connectivity’. No, I don’t know what that means either. But amid the lofty language was an appeal for lower spectrum fees and fairer taxes.

Google Assistant goes on-message

Android users love Google Assistant even though it can feel a bit creepy. Assistant takes clues from your phone activity to make useful suggestions. Now, Google says it will connect it to messaging. When you text, the Assistant AI will bring up links etc based on what you typed.

Nubia Alpha unveils ‘wearable phone’

The tiny number of people who care about smartwatches were very excited about Nubia Alpha. It’s a ‘wearable smartphone’ with a flexible display that wraps around the wrist. Impressive. Also kind of pointless. It may or may not tell the time.

Tim Green

Features Editor, MEF Minute

  

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