MWC, one of the world’s largest tech shows, is finally back in full force after an enforced two-year hiatus caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Still, this year’s event has felt less consequential than previous iterations and questions remain as to whether it can reclaim its former glories.
Before the pandemic, many of the world’s largest smartphone OEMs announced their new flagship devices either in the conference room itself or at another location near Barcelona.
However, Samsung – arguably Android’s biggest player – opted to forgo that tradition in 2022 and instead announced the Galaxy S22 at its own event three weeks earlier. While the Korean firm was still present at MWC and unveiling new laptops, the decision to keep the S22 revealed to itself put a damper on the proceedings.
With Sony also making the decision to pull out in January (in a decision described as “disappointing” by organizers), the only major new products announced were from mid-tier OEMs Honor and Realme. With the loss of major announcements, along with the lingering threat of deadly disease, came the inevitable reduction in crowd numbers.
Walking through the halls on the first day, the MWC felt noticeably emptier than previous years which had seen over 100,000 people in attendance. The conference center’s main thoroughfares still had a steady stream of attendees traversing its aisles, but not the gushing crowds of the pre-pandemic era.
Although organizers have yet to announce official visitor numbers, some clues can be taken from CES 2022, the world’s largest tech show held in Las Vegas in January. Its own numbers were beaten by the Omicron variant, with just 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. Given MWC’s emptier halls this year, it won’t be a surprise if she fared so badly.
To make matters worse, the organizers were very strict about participants keeping their FFP2 masks on at all times. At one point, this reporter briefly took off his mask just to clean his nose and was shouted at by a host within seconds. The FFP2 masks fit tighter than the paper variants typically worn in the UK and restrict airflow in a way that can get quite uncomfortable when moving from meeting to meeting in the huge convention center . It also makes one-on-one networking more difficult when trying to meet and recognize people from their blurry LinkedIn image.
While this may sound like an anti-mask rant, it’s definitely not – these measures are totally necessary. The world is still in the midst of the pandemic, even though it has passed its peak, and MWC threatens to be a high-spread event if preventive measures are not taken. With people coming from countries all over the world, the only option is to wear masks and be as careful as possible. Yet there is no escaping the fact that the current scenario is far from ideal for events of this nature.
Whether companies like Samsung and Sony will consider returning next year will likely depend on how the world fares with Covid and its emerging variants over the next year. Alternatively, now that they’ve had a taste for going it alone, perhaps attending such big shows will have less appeal anyway. One can’t help but wonder if MWC and CES will ever return to their former glory, especially as innovation in mobile technology has slowed since the heady days of 2010-2015.
People have now had two years to get used to working from home, hosting virtual meetings and taking Zoom calls, and a survey last year found that 40% of European business travelers plan to travel flown 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 don’t attract the business or consumer interest that they once had. .
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