MWC 2014 shows that devices all look the same

I recently visited Mobile World Congress in Barcelona with one of my colleagues Jeremy Offer who is the Director of Industrial Design at Great Fridays. We saw some interesting steps in innovation, but no real game-changers or disruptive models.  

The most disappointing and alarming takeaway from the show was the fact that the mobile phone has hit a design glass ceiling. That’s not surprising, how do you take something rectangle and make it more innovative?

We must have visited at least 50 of the world’s major mobile phone and tablet manufacturer stands searching for something new. Apart from colour changes and some neat innovations around materials (waterproof for instance) all the phones look the same.

Cover the brand logo with your thumb and it’s difficult to tell whether it’s a  Samsung, LG, or a Sony Device. The most distressing attempt at innovation comes from LG’s curved screen, I mean talk about desperate times.

Innovation really is crawling along if you consider what most brands are touting as the big thing: wearable technology, which is basically a square or rectangle displays on a wristwatch or headband. Wow, now that’s innovation!… Not.

There is a sense that the disruptive leader in the corporate technology world has disappeared, so the manufacturers no longer have anybody to mimic; not difficult to work out who that is.

Everyone is waiting for Apple to release the next game changer, while they clamber for market share.  The company is failing real innovation by turning materials from dull grey metal tones to vibrant luminous ones.

Google has attempted to disrupt the world with Google Glass, but has that impacted on the broader device market yet? Google threw the idea out there into the market to create a conversation, and to be seen as an innovator of hardware, and to kick start a new way of thinking, fair play to them.

But most of the world has missed it, or failed to understand its significance, dismissing the technology because it looks out of place and intrusive.

I think Google is way ahead of the game with Glass, In the same way that the Apple Newton of 1987 was quickly axed because people couldn’t understand its place in our world. It took a further 30 years for this concept to really impact on our lives, so it won’t be 2050 until this technology hits critical mass.

Everybody seems so fixated with screen-based hardware technology at the moment, and the mobile phone has patently influenced this short-term thinking.

Google is definitely on to something, even if it takes thirty years to develop into an augmented device that becomes a part of us, rather than a wearable device that sits on our nose.

Maybe the company will at least make the display round, and dump the rectangle once and for all.  After all our eyes are round, and not square, and its not often that nature gets this kind of thing wrong.

Imagine if a Stone Age version of Google Glass had been ‘released’ 30,000 years ago. Our ancestors’ form of communication at that time was with pictures and images painted on walls.

There would have been no consequent evolution towards writing systems and these hackneyed rectangular shapes we continue to work and communicate with. There would have been an image-based world, but perhaps that is a world that will exist in 2050.

Whether Mobile World Congress 2050 will still be there, well, that remains to be seen.


  • (will not be published)