This year’s Mobile World Congress event kicks off this Sunday in Barcelona, and you can expect a bevy of wireless developments, news and devices. My colleague Kevin Fitchard is making the trip to Spain, so we’ll have a man on the show floor, as it were; Kevin already shared some thoughts on what to expect from MWC after he spoke with Michael O’Hara, the CMO of the GSMA organization. Without a doubt, everything will be focused on connectivity and mobility, but what specific devices might we see?
Answering that question is a little easier this year, as many vendors have already shared their device introduction plans. Of course, there’s always a number of leaks and rumors too. These trade shows are starting to lose their luster in my eyes as companies keep trying to outdo each other by making announcements earlier and earlier. Regardless, MWC is the premiere wireless event of the year, and the world will be watching. Here’s what I’ve heard we’ll see, along with some thoughts on what I think the show might bring to consumers.
- LG goes big and clings to 3D. LG will have three new phones in its “L”-line, each ranging in size. The Optimus L3 has a 3.2-inch display and will appear in Europe next month. Later, the L5 and L7, with 4- and 4.3-inch displays, will follow, with Android 4.0 out of the box. The Optimus 3D Max, announced earlier this week, will also be on display as a mid-range handset with glasses-free 3D support. And LG is getting in on the quad-core smartphone game with the Optimus 4X HD, powered by Nvidia’s Tegra 3; the handset rivals the Galaxy Nexus with a 4.7-inch, 1280 x 720 display running on Ice Cream Sandwich.
- Eight is enough for ZTE. The Chinese hardware maker is planning a big MWC splash with eight new device launches. The company hasn’t publicly shared specifics for each yet, but has said these will be “[b]ased on technology innovations including multi-core chipsets, LTE, 4G radio and the latest Android and Windows Mobile platforms.” I suspect ZTE means Windows Phone, which is interesting, given that everyone other than Nokia seems to be quietly ignoring the platform.
- Speaking of Nokia….. No official information has come out yet, but rumors abound that MWC will see one or two new Windows Phone handsets out of Espoo. If true, it would likely be a broadening of the Lumia line to include a capable but bare-bones model priced under the already inexpensive Lumia 710. Windows Phone runs very well on hardware that’s nearly two years old, and this could drive the platform down to emerging markets where mobile broadband is just starting to expand.
- Intel’s coming-out party for mobile. Last month at the Consumer Electronics Show, I saw Intel’s newest Atom chip powering an Android tablet — see the video demo here — and the company has a phone in the works too. There’s little doubt in my mind that this is the year Intel finally tries to crack the ARM stranglehold on smartphones, but when will it do so? It would likely be either at MWC or at the May CTIA event. Given that Intel showed a voice-capable mobile Internet device at the 2009 MWC show, I’m leaning toward the former over the latter. Remember, there are two big differences from the Intel of three years ago: it now has an operating system in Android, and it has hardware partners in both Lenovo and Motorola, which is likely to be owned by Google soon.
- The usual suspects in hardware and software. HTC, Sony, Huawei, and perhaps Samsung and Motorola, will show some new phones, but most will be variations on a theme. A few are sure to use quad-core processors as they target the high-end consumer and business user, but most handsets will still likely use dual-core chips. Watch for updated user interface skins, such as HTC Sense 4.0, as well as new ecosystem services as each manufacturer attempts to differentiate themselves from the pack; something that’s increasingly difficult in the crowed Android market. Microsoft is sure to show off Windows 8 on tablets while NFC chips and LTE are likely to appear in most handset lineups as well, but mainly in the “fully loaded” phones, as these two technologies are just getting started in most regions.
- Where are the tablets? I don’t expect to see as many tablet announcements at MWC this year, as the major players — depending on how you define “major” — won’t be there: Apple, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. These three accounted for 78 percent of all tablet sales in the fourth quarter of 2011. That leaves Samsung, Motorola, Huawei, HTC, LG and a few others to show off new tablets, but many have already done so over the past three months. And the bigger issue is that few are selling in great numbers. As a result, I figure we’ll see some of the same Android tablets we found at CES shown off at MWC, with very few new variants. I could be wrong given that Android 4.0 is readily available to manufacturers.
- I’ll take a little Ubuntu on the side, please. Although turning a docked smartphone into a full computing device isn’t a new idea, Canonical should get plenty of attention at MWC. The company has a solution that runs Ubuntu Linux from an Android smartphone when connecting the phone to a monitor and keyboard. The software can take advantage of all of the phone’s data, so there’s no need to sync between the two environments.