Trends on Tuesday: Big Ideas from Mobile World Congress

Will Sullivan takes a selfie outside the entrance to the Mobile World Congress

Mobile World Congress, the world’s largest mobile infrastructure, software, hardware, product and app show, took place in Barcelona, Spain, and I attended for the fifth time. This year’s show shattered previous records with more than 93,000 attendees across all the areas that mobile touches. Here are a few notable trends and topics that I came away with and what government agencies should learn from them:

Phone Sizes

One notable trend (or slowing of an explosive trend) was the size of mobile devices seems to have stabilized—for now. For the past couple of years, phones have been growing bigger and bigger every year at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and Mobile World Congress (MWC) as “phablets” (hybrid phone and tablet sized devices, larger than 5 inches) have become mainstream.

This year, the sizes seemed to have stabilized with the larger brands like Samsung and HTC keeping their flagship phones in the same size range as last year, after increasing them year over year.

The larger phablet phones like iPhone 6 Plus, Samsung Note 4 and Google Nexus 6 seem to be the limit of what people are willing to personally carry everyday as their phones. Many phablet users tout the utility of having both a phone and a device large enough to enjoyably watch large, high definition video, to read books on and the largely increased battery life—a long standing challenge for mobile devices.

These industrial design trends tend to work in cycles though, so sizes might grow again or they might shrink as people grow tired of the larger device in their pocket. But for now, government agencies can focus on building and testing our digital products for device sizes generally 6 inches and smaller—ideally with responsive structure, so if phones grow or shrink in the future we can still serve a high-quality experience.

The 5G World

While the technical specifications of what “5G” cellular networks actually mean hasn’t been clearly defined by regulators or the industry, many of the big players in the telecom infrastructure and mobile network operator space were touting the “5G” buzzword anywhere they could at the trade show and espousing their vision of what it means and how it will impact and enrich their customers’ lives.

There seems to be a consensus that the future 5G networks will offer exponentially higher speeds (up to 10 GB per second), lower power consumption and energy efficiency, lower latency (the time between digital transactions from cellular towers and devices) and a public deployment timeline of 2020 or later.

It is challenging to begin preparing for a 5G world since the final specifications are still undefined, but we should track this and as the standard becomes clearer, our agencies should start envisioning what experiences (and audience expectations) will look like and begin planning for this digital future.

For instance, when 5G networks become a reality, streaming video at ultra high definition quality (like the new 4K standard) could become a reality and the infrastructure and technology to manage that would be substantial.

For more about some of the specifications being proposed from industry groups, check out the Next Generation Mobile Networks alliance 5G Whitepaper or the European Union’s 5G Public Private Partnership proposal.

The Internet of Things

ORAL-B smart toothbrush
Another buzzword that was flooding the trade show floor was “The Internet of Things” or “The Internet of Everything” with all sorts of products—from cars to home energy controls to toothbrushes—becoming WiFi, Bluetooth and NFC equipped to add functionality, sensors and Internet communication protocols that share and track information.

The most impressive demo I saw was from Oral B, that was introducing a Bluetooth enabled toothbrush that tracked the sensitivity, time and location of your brushing and offered feedback, customized brushing plans and data tracking over time, as well as weather and news information on your phone while it timed your brushing time. I don’t know if everyone would feel completely comfortable with taking this approach to every aspect of their life being tracked, ranked and connected, but The Internet of Things is coming, and government agencies are going to have to prepare for regulatory, bandwidth and security challenges and opportunities—especially in the health and public utility areas.

Wearables

Somewhat related to the Internet of Things, mobile “wearables” exploded this year at Mobile World Congress—almost every company was launching some sort of smart watch—and then the wearable buzz surged again this week with Apple (who does not show at MWC) officially announcing the details of their Apple Watch.

Virtual Reality experiences also were popular throughout the trade show to share new digital content and experiences.

For government organizations, this trend is notable: consider how you can personalize and break down your information, news and utilities for smaller and smaller ‘glance’ experiences or virtual experiences to enhance audience lives.

Final Thoughts

With all these developments, there are still a lot of questions around what kind of industry/universal development standards will evolve for cross-device information sharing, security and privacy and how that will affect the growth, adoption and integration into our lives and work. Government agencies would be smart to keep on top of these technologies and figure out how they can be used to enhance what we do, especially to get in front of the potential challenges that will surely confront us.

For those interested in getting ahead, next Monday, the MobileGov Community of Practice will be hosting an event to discuss creating stellar mobile products in government. The program will be in downtown DC and feature the Internal Revenue Service, Department of Homeland Security and American Battle Monuments Commission talking about best practices they’ve created in their mobile endeavors. Learn more and sign up here.

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