Moving on from Mobile

This year’s annual trip to the Mobile World Congress 2016 in Barcelona was a strange one, because nobody seemed to be here for the mobile phones – myself included. Instead, smart devices and services dominated this year’s attractions. Of course, there were a few interesting mobile developments on display, but it was the Internet of Things that took centre stage (Matchbox are IoT integrators in case you were wondering).

They say you’re never more than six feet away from a rat… well, at the MWC this also applies to IoT exhibitions. From connected cars that monitor driver performance, to wearable tech that measures personal wellness, to refrigerators capable of logging a user’s biometric information; connectivity modules are being rammed into everything. I’m not quite sure I want to live in a world where my fridge judges me for eating that three-day-old Chinese takeaway and automatically orders a larger size of jogging bottoms, but it’s no use swimming against the tide. Particularly after that Chinese.

I’ve always had a couple of major issues with the Internet of Things. First of all, it’s a terrible, boring name. But my main gripe, whether you’re talking coffee machines that monitor your caffeine levels or a Netflix account that calls you racist, is that while the devices themselves worked well, the companion applications controlling them did not always delight. There is a persistent gap in the experience between connected hardware and software that leaves consumers frustrated.

Smartphone apps are currently the primary touch point for smart home devices, of course, but the Amazon Echo has the potential to change that quite quickly.  Voice activated multimedia systems are already prevalent, but the inclusion of Alexa – Amazon’s cloud-based voice service – could prove to be a game changer. Not only does this amazing little gadget enable you to order items without using your hands, it also allows you to control IoT devices in and around your home. It seems all of those films where a seductively-voiced computer responds to your every whim are about to come true.

Sorry, I drifted off there. So, let’s take a quick look at some of my personal MWC 2016 highlights:

SIGFOX

Sigfox have described themselves as the ‘Switzerland of the Internet of Things’, which they claim is because they are neutral about which devices they’ll work with and has nothing whatsoever to do with their tax arrangements. The Sigfox stand included many IOT examples such as a beehive that tells you when it’s time to harvest honey, a weather vane that sends wind data to paragliders, and a beer tap which monitors the beer’s temperature and reports back. I can personally vouch for the efficacy of this particular product, having spent most of the afternoon rigorously testing it.

LG ROLLING BOT

When it comes to mixing tech with home security, we are some way off having armed battle droids like Robocop’s ED-209, and that’s probably a good thing. But in the meantime we do have the LG Rolling Bot – a nifty piece of home monitoring equipment which you can activate and operate remotely. The Rolling Bot comprises two domed wheels bolted onto a central unit, which contains a camera capable of streaming video live to your smartphone. Ever wondered if you really have left the oven on? Do you suspect your kids are having a party even though you told them not to? Is the bloke next door coming in and helping himself to your lightsabre and Jedi robe? Now you can find out for sure with the LG Rolling Bot!

ZTE SMART PROJECTOR

The Chinese electronics giant ZTE seized my attention with their brand new Spro Plus smart projector. Whereas their previous offering the Spro 2 projected images using a distinctly sub-par LED lamp, the Spro Plus takes a massive leap and employs the use of lasers! Who doesn’t like lasers? Projection technology has always been problematic in broad daylight, as previously your only chance of obtaining a decent picture was to shut the curtains and sit in near darkness like a house badger. But with the Spro Plus’ 500 lumens output and its dual-purpose nature as a tablet with an 8.4 inch display, I can see this becoming a major seller for ZTE.

CAT S60

This is the mobile world congress after all, so it would be remiss of me to not mention at least one smartphone at the convention. CAT is a company most people associate with industrial machinery, expensive footwear and high school pencil cases, but now they’ve also branched out into the communications sector with a range of hardy and multi-functional smartphones. Not only is the S60 waterproof, it also comes with built-in FLI thermal imaging capabilities. You can find a lot of practical uses for a thermal imaging camera. For one, you can optimise the performance of a BBQ in an unnecessarily high-tech fashion.

SAMSUNG

As usual Samsung stole the show at this year’s MWC, yet in spite of the virtual reality gimmick, the S7’s unveiling and the appearance of Mark Zuckerberg, I was more impressed by their exhibition stand. The Samsung stall was basically a mobile phone museum – a trip back through time taking in the several innovative stages of the Samsung mobile phone. It was really strange seeing so many of my own memories come to life via the medium of phones. Here’s the one I called my broker on to buy shares in Lastminute.com… and the one I bought after the dotcom bubble burst and chucked the first one in the river. Ooh, here’s the one I tried to keep secret from my wife when I started manufacturing crystal meth to cover my stock market losses. Ah, memories.

As I said at the beginning, traditionally the MWC’s primary focus has been the mobile phone, which is no longer the case. Yet there’s no need to change the name just yet. For a start that would mean getting a load of new stationery printed, but it’d also be pointless because the whole purpose of the Internet of Things is to make humans themselves more mobile. Less intrusive, more inter-connected technology is seemingly the way forward, and whether you operate it using your smartphone, your voice, or the Force – the Internet of Things is truly here to stay.