MWC still feeling the effects of Covid
Image credit: Jack Loughran
MWC, one of the world’s largest global tech shows, has finally returned in full force after a two-year forced hiatus brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet this year’s event felt less consequential than previous iterations and questions still remain over whether it can reclaim its former glories.
Prior to the pandemic, many of the world’s biggest smartphone OEMs would announce their new flagship devices either at the conference hall itself or at another nearby venue in Barcelona.
However, Samsung - undoubtedly Android’s biggest player - chose to forgo this tradition in 2022 and instead announced the Galaxy S22 at its own event three weeks earlier. While the Korean firm still had a presence at MWC and unveiled some new laptops, the decision to keep the S22 reveal to itself put a dampener on the proceedings.
With Sony also making the decision to pull out in January (in a decision branded as “disappointing” by the organisers), the only major new products announced were from mid-tier OEMs Honor and Realme. With the loss of major announcements, as well as the continuing threat of a deadly disease, came the inevitable reduction in crowd numbers.
Walking around the halls on the first day, MWC felt decidedly emptier than previous years that had seen over 100,000 people attending. The conference centre’s major arteries still had a steady stream of attendees traversing its walkways, but not the gushing crowds of the pre-pandemic era.
While the organisers have yet to announce official visitor numbers, some clues can be taken from CES 2022, the world’s largest tech trade show which was held in Las Vegas in January. Its own numbers were battered by the Omicron variant, with only 45,000 attendees and 2,300 exhibitors, compared to 171,000 attendees and 4,400 exhibitors at the last in-person event in January 2020. Considering the emptier halls of MWC this year, it will be no surprise if it has fared similarly poorly.
To make matters worse, organisers were very strict about attendees keeping their FFP2 mask on at all times. At one point, this reporter took his mask off briefly just to clear his nose and was shouted at by a host within seconds. FFP2 masks are tighter fitting than the paper variants typically worn in the UK and restrict air flow in a way that can become quite uncomfortable when bolting from one meeting to another across the huge convention centre. It also makes one-to-one networking more difficult when trying to meet with, and recognise, people from their blurry LinkedIn picture.
While this may sound like an anti-mask diatribe, it’s definitely not - these measures are totally necessary. The world is still in the thick of the pandemic, even if it has passed its peak, and MWC threatens to be a super-spreader event if preventative measures aren’t taken. With people attending from countries across the globe, the only option is to wear masks and be as cautious as possible. Still, there’s no escaping the fact that the current scenario is less than ideal for events of this nature.
Whether firms like Samsung and Sony will consider returning next year will likely be up to how the world fares with Covid and its emerging variants over the next year. Alternatively, now that they’ve had a taste of going it alone, maybe attending such big shows will hold less appeal anyway. One can’t help but wonder whether MWC and CES will ever return to their former glory, especially since innovation in mobile tech has slowed down since the heady 2010-2015 period.
People have now had two years getting used to working from home, conducting virtual meetings and taking Zoom calls, and one poll from last year found that 40 per cent of European business travellers plan to travel by plane less than they did, even after Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.
There will always be a place for physical events such as MWC and CES, but it seems likely that they will become smaller affairs that simply do not attract the corporate or consumer interest they once did.
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