It’s that time of year again, where the world’s biggest event kicks off for the mobile industry in Barcelona.
There’s going to be an awful lot of things revealed, but here’s a list of the things that I’m most looking forward to seeing in the coming days.
Samsung Galaxy S5
It seems odd that Samsung has decided not to have its own separate launch for the new Galaxy S5, but there’s little chance of the company failing to attract media attention whenever it holds an event.
So much so, many manufacturers aren’t even holding launch events of their own at MWC – possibly as a result of knowing all eyes will be on the latest Galaxy release.
Expected to have a ridiculously high-resolution QHD (1440×2560 pixel?) display and some clever new camera tech (with 4K/Ultra HD support, naturally), including some new LED lighting (perhaps akin to the dual-tone flash on the iPhone 5s – or possibly to act more like that of a Xenon flash), it isn’t solely new hardware that will make this phone special.
It’s also going to be as much about the software, following Google’s deal to see Samsung tone down the customisation, and the range of accessories on offer.
Although there might still be content on the phone that was signed off before Google’s deal, we can hopefully still expect to see the ability to turn some features off, or remove them entirely. Plus there’s always the Play Edition version to come.
As the undisputed market leader, there’s no doubt the Galaxy S5 will become a hit, regardless of how it’s received by the tech press. Even though I wasn’t totally blown away by the Galaxy S4, with all of the replicated ‘S’ apps that weren’t needed (and only there due to Samsung’s paranoia at the time) will be the first to say it’s the phone to beat – and the model that all other devices will be compared to.
New Galaxy Gear smartwatch
Rumour has it, Samsung’s second Galaxy Gear smartwatch will also be unveiled at MWC. At the start of the year, I spoke to someone who hinted of new features, like enabling sensors to be used to allow the watch to act like a game remote (think Wiimote), or to relay additional information from a game, like a second screen.
Could this be the watch that introduces these new features and take smart watches into new areas, like enhancing mobile gaming?
Sony Xperia Z1 successor
Sony is stating its press event is only for people hosted by Sony, which makes me wonder how many big announcements the company has if a lot of people aren’t invited.
It seems likely there will be two products; an update to the existing Xperia Z1, plus a new version of the Tablet Z (see below).
The new Z1, codenamed Sirius, doesn’t appear to be a new flagship – but rather an update that addresses a few issues on the original. In comes a new IPS display, which should offer better viewing angles, and there’s also the possibility of dual-stereo speakers.
Under the hood, there’s an increase to 3GB of RAM but everything will still be powered by the same Snapdragon 800 SoC as in the Z1, plus the same camera.
The phone might also be a smidgeon bigger than the Z1, which is already bigger than the Z – yet for no actual increase in screen size. Naturally, the phone continues to be water resistant.
Externally, Sirius retains the same magnetic charging dock connector from the Z1, which is good because there’s no talk of it supporting any form of wireless charging.
Rumour has it the proper upgrade to the Z1, using the newer and faster Snapdragon 805 SoC, will follow in the second half of 2014 (most likely at IFA) and Sirius is more of a ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ refresh, although it’s inevitable that it’s going to be forced to stand trial against other flagships like Samsung’s Galaxy S5, and HTC’s One successor (to be announced on March 25th) where it might struggle given last year’s hardware.
But, considering how good the Z1 is, anyone in the market for a Z1 would be silly not to look at the new model, or at least wait a bit to see if it leads to a discounting on the original.
Good news for existing owners too; many of the features on Sirius will be coming to Z1 and Z1 Compact users with the KitKat update due from March onwards. New camera features, new settings and home screen layouts, plus a lot more. Another reason perhaps not to rush out and upgrade if you’ve already got a Z1?
Sony Xperia Tablet Z2
My own ‘best-of-show’ at MWC last year was Sony’s Xperia Tablet Z. An incredibly slim 10.1-inch tablet, with water resistance and good quality imaging and sound. The only disappointment was the ageing Snapdragon S4 CPU, and – since the release of the newer Xperia models – the use of the older style dock connector.
All of these things have now been addressed, so the new tablet will have the newer design language, the new magnetic charge dock connector, plus Snapdragon 800 CPU. It’s not clear if the new tablet also gets more RAM (3G as against 2GB in this case), but there will be different storage options (with memory expansion) and LTE/4G variants. Plus a choice of colours of course. Black and white are obvious, but could there be some other bright colours (ala the Z1 Compact) instead of just purple?
The only disappointment is that it would appear to only have the same 1920×1200 pixel resolution display from before. Not poor by any stretch of the imagination, but perhaps a little low in a heavily competitive market where many tablets have now upped the stakes with 2560×1600 pixel displays.
Three’s announcement on 4G coverage + new tariffs
Okay, so this won’t officially be at MWC – but while everyone is in Barcelona looking at the new mobile devices, Three will be unveiling a few exciting, and potentially controversial, things back home.
First of all is the long anticipated update to its 4G coverage maps, which should reveal a few surprises. As Three announces it has completed the activation of ALL subscribers to access 4G (handset and coverage permitting), people on Twitter have been posting 4G speed tests in locations not yet shown as covered.
Earlier this week, this included places like Dundee and Peterborough.
In fact, it seems that Three might be about to announce that it’s slightly ahead of schedule in terms of 4G coverage rollout, which might compensate a little for the delay in activating users that hoped to gain access in December last year.
On top of that, Three will reveal a complete revamp of its tariffs and some new features, such as access to the Virgin Media Wi-Fi service on the London Underground, plus a few things that I’m not allowed to reveal just yet.
There will be more unlimited data options, new options for unlimited calls and texts, but also the possibility of a cap on tethering – primarily to protect Three’s mobile broadband tariffs. This is a change that might annoy and disappoint some users, although so far it’s only for new contracts and so the advice is clear; if you want to continue enjoying all the current tariffs, sign up now.
There’s talk of Three increasing the data allowances on some of its broadband tariffs, so anyone considering using Three to replace a fixed broadband service might still be able to find an affordable option even if tethering via The One Plan becomes less practical.
Nokia X Phone
This has for some time confused me. Why would Microsoft have allowed Nokia to continue development of a phone using Android, but as time goes on it makes a little more sense – and also makes it a little less exciting news for those who always wished Nokia had gone with Android instead of Windows Phone.
Series 40 currently powers the entry-level Asha phones that Nokia sells with great success in some markets, but it’s old and going the same way as other platforms Nokia has supported over the years.
Android appears the ideal solution to take Asha phones forward, without ever causing any serious threat to Windows Phone, or suggesting that Microsoft is losing confidence in its own smartphone platform.
What’s more, the supposed ‘X’ phone will be very basic. It’s a chunky phone, running with just 512MB of RAM and nothing that would make you rush out and buy one if you were in the market for a new Android phone. It’s not a phone for you or me. It won’t, for one, support Google Apps – so no Maps, Play store, Gmail app, Hangouts etc.
However, it’s still going to be interesting to see how Nokia has adapted elements of Windows Phone and put it on Android, and there have been rumours that a future version of Windows Phone might be designed to run Android apps and games. It’s quite possible that someone will extract the Nokia launcher to put on other Android devices too!
So, while it isn’t a phone you’re likely to buy (unless you’re reading this from an emerging market), it’s one to keep an eye on for the future.
In terms of Windows Phone announcements and new handsets, it seems that Microsoft will be holding off for a separate event later in the year for new phones, tablets, and Windows Phone 8.1 news.
Wearables in general
Just like CES, a theme of MWC is bound to be wearable technology. Already press releases are coming through from companies I’ve not heard of before inviting me along to look at their new watch. There are rumours that Huawei, ZTE and HTC might be showing off their own ideas – with HTC perhaps being most interesting, if it’s true that it will be based on Qualcomm’s Toq smartwatch concept.
This is all from an industry still trying to figure out the ideal formula, and all seemingly waiting on Apple to set out its stall.
Pebble, my personal favourite, takes the idea of just relaying key information to users. Despite having the ability to run apps (albeit basic ones, although someone has recently made a Flappy Bird clone), my personal use is quickly scanning for new messages and notifications, or seeing who is calling me at a glance.
Not much different to my usage of the Sony Ericsson/Fossil smartwatches released many moons ago, with a single line OLED display. Ahead of their time these were.
Samsung has other ideas, while we’ve seen a growing trend for smartbands that are used more for sport and fitness applications. Sony announced one at CES this year and will no doubt be showing it off in more detail at MWC too.
Apple is yet to reveal anything, but it has had plenty of people come up with concept images, most of which seem to completely miss the point.
What makes Pebble so good is the simplicity. The concept photos for the iWatch all seem to have really fancy displays, with differing takes of iOS to render information and graphics. In practice, it’s too much for someone simply wishing to glance at a watch and glean information quickly.
In my opinion, a good smartwatch works in conjunction with a smartphone or tablet, not trying to replace it. There will be many times that you can just refer to your watch display, but others where you’ll then proceed to take your phone out of a pocket and interact as normal.
It’s a pretty sure bet that Apple knows this too, and anything released will be designed to suit a purpose, not just offer great visuals for no appreciable gain.
Even Apple only really has one shot at getting things right, which is why the company is clearly taking its time – and no doubt having some fun watching what the competition is doing without any form of guidance.
The problem is, the longer it takes for Apple to enter the market, the more slightly suspect watches from other manufacturers will appear – and then disappear almost as quickly. And some of these things aren’t cheap.
Thus far, Pebble seems to have little to fear, which is probably why the company felt it could inject new life into its product not with loads of new features, but simply a new design. The Pebble Steel now looks as awesome on the wrist as it is to use and remains my personal choice – but perhaps one week from now, my views will change.
Motorola is holding an evening event/party, where it’s not clear if anything new will be announced – or we’ll just be told about future plans by its new owner, Lenovo.
Following the huge success of the Moto G, and knowing that Qualcomm’s latest update to Snapdragon 400 includes LTE support, I can’t wait for news of the G’s successor – which will hopefully bring dual-band Wi-Fi support and 4G – but I’m not sure MWC is where such an announcement will be.
Hearing what Motorola has to say still sounds like a good idea, but I am not expecting much in the way of news.
Things that won’t make the headlines
One year at MWC saw me writing about the most exciting announcement of the whole event having been the industry agreeing to adopt micro USB as a standard for charging.
There’s always a chance that some of the most interesting news will fall below the radar, but have a big impact on everyone in the coming months and years.
I’m not sure what things could qualify this year, but it does seem that the industry might have finally agreed on one standard for wireless charging. If so, perhaps some of the manufacturers that are yet to include the technology in their devices may start doing so in the future.
To date, it’s only a handful of phones that have offered wireless charging, either natively or with an accessory. LG, Samsung, and Nokia to name a few, plus many of the Google Nexus devices (including the Asus-built Nexus 7 2013 edition).
Given even the likes of IKEA has signed up to support wireless charging, once everything is standardised, we might just be one step closer to being able to buy furniture that contains embedded chargers for a host of devices. That will probably count as being big news!
4G data roaming is another thing on the agenda of all the big operators, which should finally see users able to take advantage of 4G speeds when roaming. Of course, at the same time, it may see some people able to hit their roaming cap in a matter of seconds, so the biggest change will come only when the EC finally acts to get rid of roaming charges within the EU – and the industry perhaps sees some sense in doing the same when venturing beyond Europe.
Voice over LTE is also likely to be high on the agenda for 4G operators, although hopefully rollout plans are already well in place for most.
Finally, there will be various announcements from smaller players including news of more Firefox OS devices, at least two new phones running Ubunto Touch OS and no doubt many smartphones and tablets from lesser known Chinese and Taiwanese manufacturers, using chipsets other than Qualcomm.
All in all, MWC is a massive event.. but it’s the things I’ve listed that I’ll be most interested in. Of course, if there’s anything big that you think I’ve missed, please let me know in the comments below.
Kick off time: Sunday
MWC officially starts on Monday 24th February, but there will have already been at least three events before then. Starting in the afternoon on Sunday with Huawei showing off its new devices and talking a bit about its LTE plans.
I’ll be writing up new handset announcements, with hands-on pics, videos, and opinion, for Pocket Gamer, but I will also be back to give my opinion post-MWC after the event draws to a close at the end of next week.