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From VR to robots and healthcare, mobile just got personal

This year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, the biggest yet, offers a microcosm of how the world of technology has changed. When mobile phones first hit the scene it was about transforming from ‘brick’ to ‘slick’ but now the focus has shifted firmly to the experiences mobile can enable through accessories and add-ons.

The priority for exhibitors was in delivering rich consumer experiences via mobile technology and why there was such interest around the possibilities posed by virtual reality. The result of this shift is not pretty for handset manufacturers, which find product growth rates in steady decline.

The mantra ‘innovate or die’ has never been more true in this sector, hence why companies like HTC used the show as a world stage to showcase its innovations with products like HTC Vive, a virtual reality offering to compete with the likes of Facebook’s Oculus Rift. It has made no bones about the fact this is where the company sees its – hopefully – more prosperous future.

Eyebrows, however, rose in the aisles when it was announced that HTC Vive’s launch price would be $200 more than its Oculus rival, in the UK it’ll retail at over £600. As some have said, you’d have to be pretty serious about your gaming to pay that much at launch, rather than waiting until the inflated price inevitably drops.

While virtual reality was not surprisingly a big topic, a step back provided a wider perspective to consider some of the other innovations on show, like the LG Rolling Bot, a Star Wars-esque rolling robotic ball, which takes futuristic-looking tech and makes it useful and useable in day-to-day life. This camera, embedded in a ball, takes pictures and videos whilst it rolls around and can be used in a practical way to monitor your home or pet, for example, when you’re not there.

Similarly, the many innovations coming out of the healthcare arena were eminently practical and even life-enhancing. The main health theme this year being prevention rather than cure; consumers are increasingly showing an appetite for taking care of themselves to prevent sickness, rather than waiting until illness strikes.

As a result, self-management medical innovations which help people streamline their personal life, optimise their healthy and, consequently, spend less time in the doctor’s waiting room or pharmacy queue were plentiful. And it’s not just health; general wellbeing was a focus, it was anything that makes life easier including smart car technology which can help you find the nearest parking space.

The smaller, seemingly less showy tech that was the star of the show and that’s no bad thing for technology and it’s great for consumers. It’s also the reason why there was such a big marketing and advertising presence this year, if consumer needs are changing and there’s a desire for more personalisation, then, of course, it follows that brands are taking notice.

Jim Mason is executive director strategy & insight at Razorfish London