Last week, CES 2022 took place as scheduled despite the emergence of the omicron variant of COVID-19, but the upheaval caused many to cancel plans to visit, even after reassurances from the organizers and exclamations that the show must go on. However, despite the messiness all this inevitably caused, it became clear many companies were actually quite well prepared to not be there, and virtual CES worked surprisingly well, just in a familiar, mostly dull sort of way.
On February 28, Mobile World Congress in Barcelona will open its doors, and organizers have also been proclaiming the show must go on, despite the health and safety situation not being any different to CES. While MWC should indeed go ahead, pushing it as an in-person event is misguided and foolish. Instead, the virtual side should become the heart of MWC, as it’s the ideal way to exhibit the exciting future of mobile tech.
Remote work worked
I covered CES 2022 remotely, and despite the last-minute pivot to online rather than in-person meetings for many firms, everything went smoothly. I interviewed executives, saw product demos, and chatted with people I usually only see at CES. Some companies sent products for review ahead of the show, and most were keen to talk in detail about the ones coming in the near future that I couldn’t try myself.
At no point did I really think I needed to be in Las Vegas. Because big-name companies bowed out and others like Samsung and OnePlus didn’t really present an actual new product at the show itself, it didn’t appear I missed much. Certainly judging by the images shared on Twitter about the sparsely attended press conferences and empty halls, it wasn’t teeming with life on the show floor, which the media traditionally scours for new products and interesting stories.
Obviously, none of the social aspects of CES was possible for me, but from what I understand not much happened in this respect anyway. When you take the socializing away, all trade shows become only about work, and I worked without a problem from home. But online CES 2022 was just the same old online meeting format I’ve had in the past. This is fine for most ordinary days, but it’s a wasted opportunity at an event all about cutting-edge tech that gets global attention.
MWC is coming
In six weeks’ time, MWC 2022 will face the same problems as CES 2022, as it seems unlikely the situation regarding Covid-19 will be all that different from now. Companies are hesitating, questioning whether they should attend, and unfortunately just like CES, the procrastination will continue before someone, somewhere decides it’s not worth the risk and effort to attend. Once one does so, others will follow, just like at CES, and once again the virtual side of the show will become suddenly important. However, it absolutely won’t be as good as it could be because of all this dithering.
It’s a tiring and counterproductive approach. Now is the time to learn from CES and all the similar events over the last two years. Those pondering what to do about MWC should set the trend and plan for a small in-person contingent if it’s warranted, and alongside it organize engrossing and informative online events. Delaying because no one knows what to do for the best is a waste of time, so instead of waiting for the dominos to start to fall, don’t take part in the game in the first place.
The industry should be proactive rather than furtively looking at everyone else to make the first move. It’ll make for a better show, it’ll ensure we as the media can present new products knowledgeably and informatively, and mean exciting innovations get the attention they deserve. Plus, done right, MWC would really be all about mobile innovation.
What about using the tech?
Taking the decision to equally prioritize the online aspect of MWC is only the start. It needs to be an event in itself. Mobile World Congress is all about, you’ve guessed it, mobile technology, so why not use it? It’s hardly a leap to expect plenty of exciting communication tech at MWC, whether it’s advancements in audio and video, a new front camera on a phone, a VR meeting space, or 5G, so why not actually demonstrate it?
At CES it was proven the basics are all in place, but MWC can do better, and this is an opportunity for companies that talk about innovation and leading the way to actually show off. Why not make partnerships, set up collaborations, and adapt? OnePlus has shown what’s possible with its augmented reality launch of the Nord, and before the pandemic with the virtual reality launch of the OnePlus 3.
Just because the fashionable aspect of being a digital nomad isn’t there at the moment — I’m at home, not on the beach — doesn’t mean the concept of working from where you want is any less relevant, particularly as more firms delay a return to the office. More than ever before, people are keen to work how and where they want, and will rely on mobile technology to do so. With the right planning and effort, MWC can illustrate how the pandemic has made that even more realistic than ever before.
The shows happen because of money
It’s important to remember the insistence that the in-person show must go on is driven by money, whether it’s for the city the event is held in, the organizing body, or the business people doing deals. The hard truth is the shows are becoming less important for media and consumers, as I discovered by not being at CES 2022. Forward-thinking organizations know this, but others obstinately cling to the past and eye profits over innovation.
Evidence that the mobile and technology industry are behind the times came when gaming trade show E3 announced in January it would be an online and not an in-person event this year, and it doesn’t take place until June. The decision has taken the pressure off companies and would-be attendees, gives them months to prepare, and will almost certainly result in a better, more coherent show.
Yet I worry the mobile industry is stumbling head first into February with a vague plan which seems to involve wondering what everyone else will do, going along with it until nerves break, and then having to change tack at the last minute.
Don’t do this. Why not decide now to make the inevitable virtual shows as good as they can be, demo mobile tech in an innovative, exciting, and relevant way, and not just wait around until being forced to do so? I want to see the mobile industry take the initiative and lead the way in remote work innovation, virtual spaces, the potential of 5G, and even the metaverse by making MWC 2022 a truly exciting, mobile-led, attend-from-anywhere event to remember.