What will the legacy of Mobile World Congress 2014 be?

By Chris Lee

Wearable tech, an interview with Mark Zuckerberg and a new Samsung handset – all the key standouts from Mobile World Congress (MWC ) 2014. While experts agree that phone handset development is no longer bounding ahead with amazing new features, wearable technology is starting to steal the limelight.

"MWC 2014 has accelerated the show’s theme in recent years: iterative updates and big handset makers holding back from their most important launches,” tech journalist and MWC veteran Gordon Kelly told NMK. “Samsung was the notable exception, but increasingly MWC is becoming a show for ambitious smaller companies, particularly from Asia, to come over and promote their devices.”

Wearable tech comes to the fore

The wearable tech market is already growing at a fast pace. In its recently released survey polling 6,000 consumers worldwide, Accenture found that more than half of consumers (52 per cent) are interested in buying wearable technologies such as fitness monitors for tracking physical activity and managing their personal health – particularly interesting  given that some of these products are not yet commercially available.

According to David Sovie, MD of Accenture’s Communications, Media, and Technology Group, consumers are becoming “increasingly awakened” to the benefits that constant connectivity can bring.

“Interest in the ‘quantified self’ is driving innovations in fitness monitoring and as a result the development of the wider wearable tech market,” Sovie said. “We can see from announcements at Mobile World Congress, consumer electronics companies are now capitalising on this. The momentum in the wearable device market is closely linked to the consumer’s transformational journey, in which digital lifestyles are being embraced like never before.”

For these devices to really reach their mass market potential, their aesthetic appeal will be essential, Sovie added.

“Going forward, we expect to see a growing number of consumer electronics manufacturers unveiling stylish wearable devices which can be worn in different ways, through collaborations with the fashion industry,” Sovie argued. “Furthermore, technological advancements are now generating smarter sensors that can detect temperature, pressure, eye tracking, gestures and magnetic fields – these sensors will be increasingly used in wearable devices, enabling manufacturers to collect specific user data such as how a person walks or drives, and what they eat, also impacting on the wearable fitness boom.”

Samsung launches S5 handset

Korean manufacturer Samsung bucked the recent trend for brands to resist launching new handsets at MWC by unveiling its new Galaxy S5.

For Jason Jenkins, editor of CNET UK, there were two stories at Samsung’s event: the end of true smartphone innovation and the emergence of wearable tech. 

“There are some cool new features on the Galaxy S5 to be sure, and it being waterproof is handy. But the fact it basically looks the same as the last two top-end Samsung phones is a disappointment, and there’s nothing here that would have a Galaxy S3 or S4 owner rushing out to buy the new model,” Jenkins said. “The days when a new phone meant a huge leap forward are behind us. Phones are becoming more like computers: you need one, but they’re all pretty similar, and a model from a few years ago will probably do fine.”

For Jenkins, the three wearable tech products Samsung also announced at MWC are in some ways more interesting.

“I’m not sure Samsung has cracked the wearable code yet, but the Gear Fit in particular is a nice looking piece of kit. This is where we’ll be seeing the true innovation in the years to come,” he concluded.

Gordon Kelly agreed, adding that there is some way to go for wearable tech before it sees wider adoption.

“What the show taught us is handset design is largely in a holding pattern,” Kelly concluded. “Devices are fast enough, big enough and thin enough already which is pushing camera quality and battery life back into the limelight. I don’t see handsets radically evolving again until the market for wearables becomes clear. Not needing to take phones out our pockets every five minutes represents a major advance that would trigger design change, but the appetite for wearables and having to charge them remains weak. A shake up is coming, but MWC 2014 didn’t see it.”

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