Posted on 1st March 2013
Tech trends come and go, and even come full circle (Tamagotchi, anyone?), and the Mobile World Congress 2013 in Barcelona is no different. Carphone Warehouse saw pretty much everything in sight, and here's the big trends we're seeing in the wireless world.
Once upon a time, a time not long ago, we were all happy with 3.5" touchscreens. Since then, the touchscreen displays on our phones have grown and grown. We thought when Samsung built the Note II it would stay a one of a kind, but it appears to have created the 'phablet' genre of smartphone, smartphones with screens over 5". Now we have the LG Optimus G Pro, a sleek phone with a screen the same size as the Note II, 5.5". ZTE also weighed in with the introduction of their Grand Memo. It actually trumps both Samsung and LG and features a 720p HD resolution 5.7" screen. Huawei went one better and created the epic Huawei Ascend Mate, featuring an amazing 6.1" touchscreen. The same resolution, 720p as the ZTE, it somehow looks sharper and crisper, and even made it into our devices of the show article.
We shouldn't forget the FonePad from Asus either. While it really is a tablet, you can still make calls on it and it acts just like a smartphone. This is 7", blurring if not completely rubbing out the line between tablets and smartphones.
No matter how much the big processor manufacturers and the smartphone companies themselves work, getting all the tech inside a smartphone to work still takes a lot of power. So, to ensure the battery life is still decent, the big battery trend is here, with huge milliwatt hour (mAh) batteries being produced. Where an old iPhone 4 had a 1,540mAh battery, the latest phones pack in huge power packs. HTC One? 2,300mAh. Sony Xperia Z? 2,350mAh. Asus Padfone Infinity? 2,400mAh. Huawei Ascend P2? 2,420mAh. ZTE Grand Meme? 3,200mAh. And the most beastly of them all is the 4,050mAh battery stuffed into the Huawei Ascend Mate.
Huawei, the giant smartphone manufacturer of China is, by number of devices sold, the third largest in the world behind only Apple and Samsung. It's already begun to break into the UK market with the Ascend P1, a phone that was seriously overachieving in terms of performance considering its price point against the flagship competitions. Now it's announced the Ascend P2, a smartphone it's billing as the fastest in the world – a reference to its 4G antennae and bespoke quad core processor. With top of the range specs throughout and a sizeable battery, an international variant could be a serious pull. We've covered the Huawei Ascend Mate in other articles, and it just shows that the Chinese company is pulling out the stops to break markets other than its home one, which it dominates. Scary stuff for the other manufacturers indeed.
ZTE is also a Chinese manufacturer that had a massive presence at MWC. Its stand had no expense spared with models demoing phones, and there were all sorts. The giant ZTE Grand Memo was alongside the ZTE Grand S LTE, both premium handsets. What might give ZTE a real advantage is its work with Firefox in the ZTE Open smartphone. Budget phones are in, and that market is only going to grow for the next few years, with ZTE set to ride the wave.
Talking of Firefox, Alcatel was also sporting a smartphone running the OS. It's actually a slightly better looking phone than ZTE's offering, and is called the Alcatel Fire. Again, budget phones are selling worldwide more than premium ones, and Alcatel will be right there when Firefox is ready, and has the new Alcatel One Touch Star as an Android budget offering. For the premium market Alcatel was offering some serious kit. There's the One Touch Scribe, a 5" Galaxy Note competitor with a squidgy stylus for handwriting or the Alcatel One Touch Idol X, a super thin (6.45mm), 4.7" screened smartphone with the latest Android Jelly Bean software.
The hotel room we stayed in had a an alarm clock radio with a dock port for an iPhone – proper old skool, you might say. MWC 2013 had barely any docks, and the reason is because technologies like NFC, Wi-Fi connectivity such as hotspots and infrareds are taking over. We saw the HTC One was able to control TVs and other devices with infrared ports and can stream wirelessly to TVs with the Media Link, NFC enabled-devices being able to start scooters, and Wi-Fi hotpots allowing you to play music through car stereos and even stream video content or directions wirelessly to built-in displays. Sony was perhaps the brand pushing the envelope most in the 'on sale now' category, with NFC pairing and wireless sharing for stereo speakers and inter-phone photo swapping, to being able to instantly stream to a TV or backup date to hardrive stations. Just bump your devices together and you're connected.
Carphone Warehouse went to MWC with the plan to checkout the smartwatches we were sure would be announced or brought along as prototypes. After all the Pebble smartwatch was one of the most popular products ever on Kickstarter, and rumours of an Apple iWatch are being well received. But we saw barely anything. A mention needs to go to i'm Watch, a high end smartwatch with a hefty price tag starting at around £250 and going up to north of a grand. It can display the weather, your calendar and appointments, let you make calls, show a compass, let you post to Facebook or Twitter, and has a variety of i'm specific apps like i'mplayer, i'mail, i'moticon, and of course it tells the time. But this has been around for a while, and was the sole representative of a category we were expecting all over MWC.
The trends are trending, but for how long? As ever, only time will tell, but now you know what's hot in the wireless marketplace.