Tracking the human factor at Mobile World Congress

(Photo by Adam Olson.)
(Photo by Adam Olson.)

Y&R's global CEO revisits his first foray to Barcelona's big tech show

I have been to Barcelona many times, and to countless tech conferences, but going to the Mobile World Congress this year was a first for me.

While I hadn’t gone before, of course people from our agency have been, and Iconmobile, one of our companies, has a large presence there.

So I have heard much about it, read even more, and was eager to make sense of it on my own.

First impressions …

It is a huge show. Make that an enormous show, and if you don’t come with a purpose and organize your visit there around it, you will be overwhelmed. It’s not like CES, where you can walk the halls and serendipitously discover things in a fairly well-curated space.

There is everything there — everything from iPhone covers to the most esoteric data-mining tools. So you have to think ahead and create your experience there.

Obviously so much of MWC is about technology. And you will see all the latest, greatest technology, some of which I guarantee will be obsolete or abandoned by the time the booths are set up next year. Clearly, Darwin is at work here, when there are 10 companies, if not more, doing the same thing.

In that context, it was interesting for me to give a speech that asserts that digital first or mobile first is an ill-conceived notion. We must put people first — technology is a great enabler, but it has to enable something that people will value. But again, technology is only an enabler.

In this sea of technology, some serious, some critical and some downright silly, I was glad to see that this message resonated.

I liked how some of the booths housed innovative companies from a single country. It was interesting, not only because it was a great snapshot of where mobile is in that country, but also because it says something about a nation’s culture.

Like CES, Israel, as Start-up Nation, and China, the Developing Empire, were impressively present. Israel’s entrepreneurial spirit was well reflected in an amazing array of companies. As was the practical nature of much of what was being shown. Think Waze. China was everywhere, and Huawai, which ranks as the third largest smartphone maker in the world, but known mainly in China, caught the attention of the whole world there. Their smartwatch was one of the most admired and talked about products — both for its design and capabilities.

But the most inspiring place for me was 4YFN — Four Years From Now — whose chairman is my good friend, Yossi Vardi.

The speakers, like the conference itself, covered an enormous range of topics, from Fiware accelerators to Bitcoin to issues about mobile privacy.

One speaker who really got me thinking was Telefonica Chief Operating Officer Jose María Álvarez-Pallete.

Telefonica is investing in 500 startups that are incubating and being tested in the cauldron of real environments. Their interest isn’t in earnouts. It’s in learning for themselves, and in bringing Telefonica customers the leading-edge in mobile. A brilliant idea. And truly uplifting. It’s something to learn from, and I wish more would do it.

Digi-babblers may insist that everything is about technology and algorithms, but the human factor was also writ large in Samsung’s new curved phone, with its beautiful, pleasing design. Considering that we’re in Barcelona, how fitting that this, too, was something everyone talked about.

Indeed, Barcelona, home to such great art, design and culture, seems the ideal place to be immersed in everything mobile — which basically encompasses all the above — and imagining its future.

We still have some distance to live up to this amazing setting. Nonetheless, I’m sold. See you there next year.

David Sable is global CEO of Y&R.

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