As a result, much of the focus was not so much on gadgets themselves as on subtle innovations that give hi-tech products greater utility and appeal.
This was most evident at the show’s Israeli pavilion, where 65 companies demonstrated the astonishing range of that country’s innovation. It was the most popular national pavilion at MWC, belying boycott efforts in some countries.
It is perhaps symbolic that attempts to boycott Israeli products in South Africa have focused on supermarket shelves, where agricultural products represent a literal and figurative soft target.
It’s become almost a cliche that the communications tools used to coordinate such boycott activities rely extensively on Israeli technology. From predictive search to internet voice calls, the DNA of modern communications is as Israeli as it is American, Scandinavianor Asian. Collaboration with Israeli hi-tech firms by counterparts from the US, South Korea, China and Japan, among others, means this influence is not about to diminish.
“For one, not to use Israeli technologies in communication you would most likely have to go back to smoke signals,” says Itai Melchior, head of the Trade & Economic Mission at the Israeli embassy in South Africa.
“All leading handsets manufacturers – be it Samsung, Apple or other key players – have research and development centres in Israel. Almost all network operators around the world use some sort of Israeli technologies in their network. This is also true for companies like Facebook and Google, and technologies that secure online buying.”
It was precisely the prospect of getting in on the ground floor of these kinds of formative technologies that drew delegates to the Israeli pavilion at MWC. The next Waze or Viber or Mobli – which received a $60 million (R719 million) investment from Mexican telecoms tycoon Carlos Slim a year ago – is likely to advertise itself most visibly at MWC.
Some already have the investment they need. Magisto, an artificial intelligence system for automatically editing family videos and photos into multimedia movies, has raised $23 million in Silicon Valley. According to partnerships vice-president Sivan Barnea, it has 60 million users who have made 120 million movies so far.
It’s easy to see the technology underpinning the kind of “life-logging” applications already being integrated with mobile phones. “The artificial intelligence looks into content, understands the main characters and which photos and parts of videos are important, slices it up and puts it together to create not only a movie but a story, complete with labels.”
She says uploads have increased by 10% in just the past month.
“We used to say video is the next big thing but, in the last 90 to 100 days, it’s here.”
New ways of creating and presenting content seemed pervasive. Comigo, a multi-screen TV platform for personalised experiences of pay-TV, and wakingapp, which allows anyone to create augmented reality content, aims at this industry sector from entirely different perspectives. They underline just how many opportunity gaps remain, not only in hi-tech in general, but also within specific categories. Either of these two could see their solutions become industry standards in coming years.
In the same way, technology used by social data mining company Correlor may well become a default for customer intelligence analytics. Says vice-president Daniel Peled, echoing a company slogan: “Understanding the user is the next currency.”
A different take on that concept comes from IsItYou, whose CEO Benjamin Levy enthusiastically demonstrates a new technology for biometric identification using only a standard smartphone and his app.
“We’ve developed an effective facial recognition technology for mobile that provides strong security that is both user friendly and actually works,'” he says.
A company called i4drive has developed a driving app that monitors the road as well as analysing the driver’s own safety levels. In this way, it almost trains one to become a better driver while also enhancing the overall driving experience – on a normal smartphone.
At the other end of the vehicular environment, a mobile parking payment solution called Parking+, from Milgam Cellular Parking, will probably inspire less consumer delight, but is regarded as a step closer to the smart city of the future.
Could any of these be the next Waze, the Israeli crowdsourcing navigational app bought by Google for $966 million? Not all are in it for a quick exit.
Essence has been marketing its machine-to-machine “connected living” solutions for home care of the elderly for 15 years. Suddenly, however, it’s a hot brand as its technology turns out to be ideally geared to the Internet of Things and its integration with home healthcare.
Gilat is a Nasdaq-listed network infrastructure company well-known for the solutions it develops for emerging markets. At MWC, director of product marketing Doreet Oren shows off a new “small cell” technology called CellEdge. It can be used to roll out a 2G or 3G network in two or three months, allowing network operators to extend their reach into rural areas very quickly and at a fraction of what it would have cost before.
That, ultimately, is the bottom line of much of the communications technology coming out of Israel. It not only represents opportunity for these exhibitors, but also for anyone who finds creative ways of taking it to other markets. Right now, there is no shortage of takers.