With the smartphone market slowing, it is more important than ever for manufacturers to stand out from the crowd. At Mobile World Congress, the world’s biggest smartphone showcase, companies like Samsung, Huawei and Xiaomi all want to be showstoppers in Barcelona next week.
Smartphone sales growth in 2015 slowed to its lowest rate since 2008, figures from Gartner show. Even Apple is feeling the pinch with sales of its iPhone dropping year-on-year for the first time in history in the fourth quarter.
Apple doesn’t attend Mobile World Congress but pretty much every other smartphone maker in the world will have a presence. From the huge capacious booths Samsung and LG will fill in Barcelona’s Fira Gran Via conference center, to the plucky upstarts like Nextbit and OnePlus who won’t even have a booth, a vast range of vendors will be present.
As always there will be high-profile and extravagant smartphone launches as well as trends to indicate where the industry is going in the coming year. As well as smartphones, we will see a lot of announcements related to products and services built on top of them, including virtual reality headsets and content, the ever-growing Internet of Things sector and a look forward to 5G networks.
Here are some of the highlights to expect in the next seven days:
Smartphones and More Smartphones
LG and Huawei will kick off the announcements Sunday, a day ahead of the official opening. LG’s conference is likely the most interesting as it will unveil its G5 flagship which, along with the the latest in chip and screen hardware, will feature the so-called “Magic Slot.” It will allow extra modules to be added with camera and audio units set to be available at launch.
Huawei is not expected to showcase its flagship model, the P9, until later this year, having recently unveiled the Mate S at CES. It could update the Huawei Watch it launched at last year’s MWC, but even more interestingly the company is rumored to be working on a hybrid tablet-laptop called the MateBook.
LG and Huawei will be mere appetizers for Samsung’s main course Sunday evening when it launches the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge. Both will build on the S6 range launched last year with the curved screen edge expected to get a larger 5.5-inch display. Samsung is thought to have brought back microSD card support from earlier generations as well as adding a bigger battery and waterproof credentials.
On Monday, Sony will hold its MWC press conference a year after it said it was going to focus on only the profitable models in its Xperia range. With the Xperia Z5 just months old, it is unlikely to launch the Xperia Z6, though sources within Sony have told International Business Times it could launch an entirely new range of smartphones in Barcelona. Sony also is thought to be working on an in-ear device that provides you audio alerts from your phone and responds to voice commands.
Xiaomi, the Chinese company that was briefly the world’s most valuable startup, will be showcasing its wares at Mobile World Congress for the first time. The Mi 5 is being launched in Beijing Wednesday but Hugo Barra, the company’s head of international relations, will hold a simultaneous event in Barcelona. Xiaomi told IBT this isn’t an indication of a European or U.S. launch for its phones, but it is certainly an interesting move by the company. Xiaomi’s compatriots ZTE and Oppo also will unveil new smartphones in Barcelona this year as Chinese manufacturers look to build on the success they saw in 2015.
Elsewhere, BlackBerry is expected to showcase an Android version of its Passport handset, and while Microsoft will be at the show, it tells IBT it won’t have major news to share.
The Birth of 5G
The fifth generation mobile networking standard — or 5G — will be widely talked about at MWC this year.
Indeed 5G standards have yet to be finalized, meaning there will be a lot of conflicting messages coming out of Barcelona, with chipmakers, operators and vendors all seeking to have their say on what those standards should be.
Intel is to divulge its 5G plans at the event, in particular how it will drive adoption of more efficient network technology as well as faster speeds. Huawei (one of the biggest manufacturers of networking equipment in the world) will share a stage with Ericsson and Nokia to talk about the adoption of 5G technologies and how this will impact our lives.
While the U.S. and Europe scramble to gain an advantage in 5G, as always the South Koreans are way ahead and at MWC this year SK Telecom will demonstrate a functioning 5G network.
VR is going to be a major aspect of Mobile World Congress. From Samsung’s Gear VR to LG’s VR 360, expect a slew of VR headsets to arrive in Barcelona this week.
These will range from the premium models like HTC’s Vive, which will be demonstrated with a few updates, to Google Cardboard variants. The latter are essentially just a couple of lenses surrounded by cardboard or plastic.
Samsung’s Gear VR sits somewhere in the middle and is by far the most sophisticated model available from any smartphone maker, so expect the South Korean company to push home that advantage. LG’s VR 360 will be a much more limited headset, likely only good for watching the 360 degree photos you will be able to create with the spherical LG 360 Cam, also expected to be announced.
While Facebook’s Oculus Rift and Sony’s PlayStation VR are leading the pack when it comes to serious VR experiences, analysts say there is a huge opportunity for smartphone companies to take advantage of the big interest in VR at the moment to woo customers.