This year marked Creative Intellect’s third visit to Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona. Each year the event gets bigger and more spectacular. This year recorded over 101,000 attendees from 204 countries and 2,200 exhibitors. Samsung, the stand by which all others are judged, had a virtual reality theme park style ride. In an effort to keep up, all of the major exhibitors seemed to have improved the quality of their own stands.

MWC brings together a large number of Creative Intellect’s community. It provides a great opportunity to engage and learn about what they, their competitors and the wider market are doing and plan to be doing. Below we outline five areas of observation and interest from our 2016 MWC attendance.

1. A growing show home for IoT

MWC is about more than mobile phones and networks. Although, the networks are perhaps enjoying a resurgence, primarily because network infrastructure is widely seen and accepted as being critical to both the digital economy and the forthcoming Internet of Things (IoT) evolution. But it is IoT that increasingly steals the show in Barcelona. Whether it’s the ubiquitous connected cars or other connected products (toothbrushes?) there is IoT in every corner of the eight halls. IoT was also on show at MWC’s start-up focused spin-off event 4YFN held at the old MWC venue a short bus ride away. Although much was consumer focused and not where most IoT is happening which is in industry.

2. New appearances and announcements

As always there are more announcements across the week than one can ever hope to keep track of. The obligatory new Samsung handset and devices from others such as LG and Huawei (HP’s Elite x3 was my personal favourite). This was the year that Google turned up in public with a stand, a garden area and the ability to “Androidify” yourself. We also had an opportunity to speak with the company at MWC which was a very welcome first.

It was also during the week that Microsoft (finally) announced the acquisition of Xamarin. This is a move that has significant potential for many organisations who find themselves having to deliver apps to different platforms (iOS, Android, Windows) and do not want the cost of multiple skillsets. For those with investments in Microsoft .NET having Xamarin as an integrated part of the development offering could enable more rapid and cost effective creation of apps, especially those targeting the workforce. Anyone looking for a true end to end development experience will be incredibly well served given that .NET code can now run just about everywhere.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise was at MWC for the first time since last year’s split of HP. Among the offerings on show was its new “Composable” Infrastructure product called Synergy which was well received at its first public outing at Discover London last December. According to reports from the HPE stand it was drawing considerable attention. Not surprising given that it represents the very latest cloud-in-a-box solution offering virtualisation at all levels of the hardware stack that is highly customisable to customers needs.

3. Adobe starts to look at mobile behind the firewall

Adobe had an opportunity at their exclusive event to talk about the newly announced Adobe Experience Manager Mobile (AEM Mobile). This product brings together what was Digital Publishing Suite (DPS) and Adobe Experience Manager. AEM Mobile enables customers to rapidly take existing content (often created in Creative Cloud tools) and deliver it through an engaging mobile app experience. Interestingly, Adobe cited how organisations mobile strategies are turning towards apps that can be used to benefit businesses internally. This is in keeping with the trend that we have been discussing for some time and one other vendors are also beginning to engage with.

Historically organisations have focused their mobile efforts outwardly towards their customers (B2C). However, they are now beginning to realise just what an impact mobile can have on making their workforce more productive and their businesses more efficient and successful. It is also a new way to engage with partners and suppliers. With AEM Mobile Adobe seeks to engage these internal use cases and help customers bring new mobile solutions to fruition as rapidly and successfully as they have been able to help them deliver B2C apps.

It will be critical for Adobe’s strategy that they can engage successfully with the internal development capabilities that are responsible for the systems on which businesses are built. B2E and B2B apps require tighter integration with legacy systems such as databases than modern B2C apps. They also need to replicate or improve and optimise what are often complex business processes.

If Adobe can engage beyond its typical marketing stronghold and reach out to other lines of business and IT, then they can be successful.

4. IBM showcases apps and customers

IBM MobileFirst has invested heavily in MWC over the last few years and continues to show what IBM can be at its very best. This year the event coincided with IBM’s big Las Vegas show Interconnect but it was in Barcelona that it made a number of key mobile announcements. It took the opportunity to highlight the unique relationship with Apple.

This partnership has delivered over 100 business focused mobile apps that integrate with customers on premise systems under the “IBM MobileFirst for iOS” brand. These apps work across multiple industries and cover numerous use cases. Some of the apps were available to see at the IBM stand but most of the attention was on the Aldebaran robots. The Apple partnership has also resulted in IBM enabling Swift (Apple’s post Object-C programming language) to run within its Bluemix Platform as a Service so that developers can run Swift code in the cloud. This could present iOS developers with an easier on ramp to creating server side code.

At both its press conference and main stage event IBM was able to showcase not just the apps but some of the customers who have been using them. More importantly it was able to talk about the processes behind creating and implementing these apps. It was noticeable that customers referenced IBM Design Thinking on a number of occasions. This demonstrates just how the concept has spread beyond IBM internally and is now having a positive impact for its customers. It is this type of thinking and the processes that is actually the strength in IBM’s offering, not just in mobile but across a number of areas including cloud and IoT.

The event presented an opportunity for IBM Interactive Experience (iX) to showcase its own capabilities especially in how it has evolved a strong digital agency identity alongside its business consulting roots. This has been helped in recent weeks with three acquisitions of well-established and respected digital agencies in Europe and the US. Once again IBM had customers (incl. Wimbledon and Tangerine Bank) available to talk about how iX has helped them to create both engaging but also highly effective solutions.

IBM was also present at 4YFN as the primary sponsor. It was holding the finals of its Global Mobile Innovators Tournament. A competition that brought start-ups from around the world together to vie for prizes across different industry focuses. This initiative is part of IBM’s broader program to reach out and engage both the developer community and entrepreneurs. By not just sponsoring the event but being physically present through the competition, its own stand and providing stands for the competition entrants shows that IBM is investing in this ambition.

This was great to see but it was also a pleasure to take part as one of the judges. One must always appreciate the effort and energy required by the start-ups to not only create a great technology solution but to shape that into a business and then get up on stage and present it. The only advice I would give based on my judging experience is that it’s critical to focus on the business value rather than how individuals may benefit from a solution. Especially where businesses will be the ones having to incur cost. They will always want to know “what’s in this for me?” and so make it super clear.

5. Cisco reinforces its IoT credentials

Following on from Cisco Live, in Berlin the week before, Cisco was also present having recently made two major announcements – the partnership with Ericsson and the acquisition of Jasper. Jasper especially represents a fantastic opportunity for Cisco in the IoT market which has been a natural focus for some time. A challenge for Cisco is that while its hardware underpins the majority of the world’s network infrastructure, in fact 80% of the world’s data touches Cisco equipment at some point, it needs to be able to extend and engage customers beyond the provisioning of hardware.

Networking is an increasingly complex issue for many organisations. Our research into IoT has found that organisations are looking for partners to help in this area. This is especially the case when one considers that in IoT the network is often incredibly fragmented across traditional business networks, mobile networks, and a number of others such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. With Jasper, Cisco are able to help customers manage their network usage more effectively and allows the company to move towards a situation where they could become the partner they call first when considering IoT solutions.

Final thoughts

This year was missing any truly major or exciting announcements and there was nothing to match the frenzy that surrounded last year’s Huawei watch. This could be because 2016 is a year when many organisations try to figure out how recent trends such as cloud, IoT, wearables and even mobile fit into their business strategies and deliver value. For large organisations, addressing Agile and DevOps is also a challenging change, and then there is Digital Transformation which many are still trying to work out what it means for them exactly. All of this takes time. So in lieu of any seismic announcements it’s perhaps useful that the vendors give customers a chance to reflect and plan.

All in all, it is always a great experience to visit MWC and while this year may have been short of big announcements it was nonetheless a spectacle to behold. CIC will certainly look forward to MWC 2017 where growing maturity within the market will further shake out the most successful technologies and working practices and showcase those suppliers with the greatest influence and delivering impact.