If you’ve been trying to contact your mobile or app experts in the past few days you are out of luck. This week the entire mobile industry has descended on Barcelona for Mobile World Congress to shape the future of mobile as it extends its tendrils into every facet of modern life.
Well, that's the theory. I can't help feeling that the Fira de Barcelona isn't just one enormous echo chamber, filled with the smoke people are attempting to blow up each other's… you get the picture.
Anyway, it's hell in there with more than 110,000 white balding men stuffed into slightly too-tight trousers all try to out do each other in the VC-raising/app download/staying up latest stakes – all while hoping not to get robbed by the estimated 250,000 pickpockets, thieves and hookers who it is estimated travel from across Europe to prey on them.
But enough about the fun side of things: MWC17 is serious (big) business. While Nokia has garnered the most headlines with the retro- relaunch of its ‘iconic’ 3310 handset (my dad, incidentally, still has his original 3310: such a cool guy), the big mobile companies are starting to be edged out of ‘their’ show, replaced by car makers, healthcare companies and a wealth of ‘digital assistant’ tech providers.
It's a strange old beast: all the big automotive players are here and they are going mobile. Jaguar is showcasing its ‘splash and dash’ technology
among other things, and much of the talk is about how great it's going to be when all these state of the art cars are all talking to each other.
This whole idea of everything talking to everything else – and your personal assistant running the show for you – is how the mobile world sees things. If I had a Euro for every time someone said ‘seamless’ to me this week I'd have enough to buy one of the top of the range seamlessly connected jags on show. But is it ever going to work?
Trying to post this very post you are reading via the mobile network here in Spain is a Herculean task. All week I've been dogged by dropped calls. Skype works – sometimes. Mostly Skype isn't working.
How is any of this going to help me when my car won't talk to car in front and I end up sitting in its boot? How is this going to help when my fridge has run out of milk but can't order any more? How is this going to help when my heating, lights, door locks and cat feeder are all switching on and off and opening and closing madly and unfettered like some sort of dystopian disco while I'm away? How's it going to help when, in years to come, my smartphone controlled insulin dispenser loses the wifi and I explode in a sugary fountain of despair?
As you can see the echo chamber is long on promise, but reality bites as soon as you step out into the dazzling Catalan sun.
Don't get me wrong, I love mobile and think that it can do many things: I just think the industry itself is getting way ahead of itself. I also feel that there is a sense here at Mobile World Congress that the mobile people are looking at how they can squeeze every last dime out of people. And by that I mean not just consumers, but also retailers, petrol stations, everyone else.
It reminds me of that Mitchell and Webb sketch about the toothbrush company
, where one hapless minion at a meeting of execs suggests that if they could convince people to also brush their tongues then they could get them to do anything. Well, that is what the mobile world appears to be doing right now – only their toothbrush (and by that I mean the mobile networks themselves) are snapped in two right now.