Five Key Themes from Mobile World Congress 2015 – Chris Copeland, GroupM Next

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A year ago, mobile was the last mile of the consumer journey. Today, it’s the entire marathon.

That was my tweet-sized summation while on stage at Mobile World Congress discussing what had changed in a year’s time from Barcelona in 2014 to 2015. And while there’s some hyperbole to it, it’s hard to dispute that, with mobile media spend doubling annually, connected devices moving out of the pocket into cars and home, and the next big thing -- Apple Watch -- due to arrive next month, we have moved from the year of mobile to the world of mobile.

In an effort to put all that Mobile World Congress had to offer in perspective, a handful of long-term themes came front and center:

The Beginning of the End for Fitness Wearables

Everyone has a wearable. At seemingly every booth, companies showcased their offering in the fitness tracking space. For most, the products were glorified step trackers with a low price point enabled by low-end design. And for nearly every device shown, the probability for success and mainstream adoption hovers around zero. The category is at a crossroads. There is a pending divide between the more complete, intelligent devices that will serve hardcore fitness enthusiasts and the multitude of devices shown at MWC. Compounding the situation is the introduction of the Apple Watch. While not on display, smart new options such as the LG Watch Urbane and more traditional looking devices such as Huawei’s entry into the market suggest your next wrist wearable will be a watch. What it suggests is that 2015 becomes the year fitness trackers fall into line as fitness category solutions, not the mainstream that once seemed promised.

The Revolution will be Virtually Televised

The long mark toward consumer embrace continues for the virtual reality headset category. AT&T used Oculus to showcase solutions in its Innovation City while HTC and Valve simultaneously announced their future VR plans at both MWC and GDC -- representing a rare moment where a product was previewed across two massive markets and showing in its announcement just how big the space may become. The reality is mainstream adoption is getting closer, perhaps even within the next 12 to 18 months, and the creative platform is becoming clear for storytellers, including brand owners. When you combine the potential of the technology and the opportunity for communications, the category quickly moves beyond virtual hype to real substance.

The Next Billion

Last year, Mark Zuckerberg shook the event by spending $19 billion on the acquisition of WhatsApp. This year, he took the main stage to present his vision for reaching, not spending, billions. Focused on Internet.org, Zuckerberg presented a different tone than 2014 by including mobile carriers and continuing to speak about the necessity of basic Internet for the masses.

In contrast to the message of everyone having something to buzz about, 5G was louder this year. The high-end access speeds via 5G are years away at scale, but the short-term future presents tremendous opportunities as Internet.org (and Project Loon from Google) work to deliver the next billion people to a connected state.

The Wither of Smartphone Innovation

There are a lot of really good smartphones making their way into the market. From Samsung to Huawei, the best phones on display offer tremendous choice, and yet the differentiated selling points were hard to detect. Optics were a frequent point of distinction with enhancements to camera capabilities more pronounced than the traditional speed and size narratives. Moving past that, it is increasingly clear that the true differentiation comes in the form of the operating system where iOS and Android continue to wage the real battle.

Maturity is a Bit Boring

In comparison to past years where big announcements of products and features or big investments stole the show, this year felt tame. Perhaps the industry at large has entered a maturing stage where incremental enhancements replace sweeping debuts. And while that may create less sexy headlines, it does allow for both reflection on where the market has gone as well as a chance to project with greater confidence. No one sees the race as anywhere close to complete, so there’s little doubt that the future holds more for everyone involved.

What we leave Barcelona with is a sense that a more established set of companies is improving products and services to deliver more value and utility to hungry customer bases. With the maturing market, brands can finally feel confident in building on top of the existing and more stable structure, without fear of wild fluctuations and with no reservations of the importance of the mobile future ahead.

Chris Copeland is Chief Executive Officer of GroupM Next, the forward-looking, media innovation unit of GroupM. Chris is responsible for curating and communicating insight-focused media solutions across established and emerging platforms. Leveraging his multi-year experience with emerging media companies, Chris is tasked with stewarding GroupM Next in partnership with agency leadership from GroupM’s four media marketing and marketing service agencies (Maxus, MEC, MediaCom and Mindshare).

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