The Mobile World Congress 2016 (MWC2016) in Barcelona is supposed to make us all craving the newest smartphones and run to the stores the week after in order to throw our money at the cashier in the nearest tech store. Actually this year I am not planning on buying any new handheld devices. I could even say, that I am a little frustrated by the new models.
However there are other things which made the MWC2016 great. Stuff that demonstrates that the event grew from a platform for new devices to a trendsetter and technology hub for experts. It certainly feels like it is not just a coincidence that it takes place in the same week as the embedded world. Both events heavily deal with IoT topics and while in Nuremberg, Germany semiconductor experts introduce the newest hardware and embedded systems, tech freaks in Barcelona try to figure out how to take advantage of those new chips and modules in order to define the roadmap for our connected future.
Therefore we will not waste much time on new gadgets and smartphones but rather take a deep dive on the technologies, happenings and systems which help us to predict what’s next in mobile.
However no post on the MWC2016 would be complete without a short look on the newest tech available soon after the event – scroll down for the new smartphone flagships and inventions of the who’s who of the mobile world – read the section below for the real important news from Barcelona first.
The Trends Behind The Stage
The real trends and important news of the MWC2016 won’t be in stores soon. Here is what you really need to know about mobile in the next years.
Everything needs to become faster. Currently we spent as much time connected to the internet as possible. We are only offline when we sleep and even then we keep track of our sleeping behaviour with connected wearables. It seems the only way to make us consume more technology and accept new apps and devices is to make everything faster. Samsung downgrades it’s camera and sacrifices resolution for faster auto-focus and thus quicker snaps. Intel and some other companies feel the pressure to invest heavily in 5G technology as faster data is necessary to enable new apps related to demanding fields like virtual reality and augmented reality.
Smartphones Are Only Remote Controls
Smartphones are an old technology. Take a look at how long “common” mobile phones existed. I am talking about the ones that only could call and text other people and maybe entertain you with black and white games like Snake. They existed in broad masses for a couple years until they have been superseded by smartphones. Now take a look at how long smartphones exist and how long it’s been since a break-through new feature was introduced to a smartphone besides screen, camera and processor upgrades. It seems smartphone manufacturers do feel the heat as more and more hardware add-ons and extensions are the only way to differentiate from the competition. Our phones are more and more becoming a remote control for other connected objects (see the new LG Friends below as example).
Virtual Reality Will Have A Huge Impact Very Soon
Another remarkable finding is that VR seems to transform not only how we get entertained at home or how we play games but already how we attend meetings. You most certainly have already heard about the speech of Mark Zuckerberg at MWC2016 which was partially delivered via VR headsets which were handed to the audience. If everyone in the audience had such a device at home why should they have traveled to Spain? Well the answer might be paella, sangria and tapas… but maybe not everyone will be back in the “VR-future”.
Wearables For Things
The next thought inspired by the MWC2016 could best be described as “Wearables for Things”. A great example might be the wearable Fujitsu made for cows in order to help farmers increase the efficiency of cattle production. By counting a cow’s steps the so called EDSC can easily recognise when the animal is ready for insemination.
Samsung presented an add-on for cars called Samsung Connect Auto which enables drivers of older cars to enjoy modern connected car features (read more below).
Predictably we will see a lot more things in our environment getting connected in the near future, accelerated by the low cost for chips these days.
The Low-Power Wide Area Network Battle Rages On
With dozens of competing LPWA network competitors on the market some of the most promising made headlines during the MWC.
Ingenu, the LoRa Alliance and Sigfox announced new expansion efforts. According to the EE Times Ingenu said it has licensed companies in 25 countries to deploy networks based on its 2.4 GHz technology. The LoRA Alliance snagged separate partnerships with ARM and a service provider in Germany for its 900 MHz network. For its part, Sigfox announced two deals to deploy a total of more than 1.2 million devices certified to run on its 900 MHz net.
Both the LoRa Alliance and Sigfox recently announced new partnerships to deploy networks in Germany, one of Europe’s largest markets.
Semiconductor Manufacturers Concentrate On Security & Future Innovations
Infineon focused its presence on highly advanced security solutions for the IoT, mobile payment as well as many other areas such as cloud and automotive security. In addition to the security platforms including the OPTIGA™ TPM (Trusted Platform Module) aiming at trusted computing as well as the CIPURSE™ Mobile portfolio tailored for mobile payment solutions, the German chipmaker presented a huge portfolio from RF front-end devices through sensors to RF transceivers.
The “New NXP” (merged companies NXP and Freescale) showcased IoT technology around innovations like the NFC ring, which is a NFC-enabled ring that was developed by a team of hackers who believe traditional keys need to be a thing of the past, along with presentations from customers such as Bragi talking about their incredible hearable “The Dash”.
Smartphones at MWC – All New But Not Much Different
Samsung introduced the new Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge. Basically, upgrades of the S6 with lower resolution camera, returning micro-SD card slot, better battery life and nothing new that leaves us speechless.
Next up the the LG G5. The phone was introduced along with “Friends” which is what LG calls hardware extensions like a little robot, 360 CAM, 360 VR and more. Besides those little add-ons the handset itself is a nice upgrade compared to the G4 with all-metal unibody, more-powerful processor and added RAM as well as dual rear camera system coupled with the CAM Plus module.
ZTE premiered the new Blade V7 and Blade V7 Lite, both focused on young people and running the latest Android 6.0 Marshmallow OS. The middle calls Blade V7 offers an 8MP rear camera with auto-focus and an LED flash, as well as another 8MP fixed-focus snapper at the front, also coupled with an LED flash. There is 16GB expandable storage, LTE connectivity, a 2,500 mAh battery, and a fingerprint scanner on the back.
Sony introduced not one but three new Xperia models with the Xperia X, the XA and the X Performance. The top model, the Performance, packs Qualcomm’s top-end Snapdragon 820 processor and an octa-core chip backed up by 3GB of RAM. It’s also the only one of the three new models that is waterproof.
Another notable phone is the much-improved prototype of Kyocera’s solar-powered smartphone display. What made that concept device interesting was how its sun-powered films were laid out: they sat between the LCD and touch panel, as opposed to being somewhere on the outside of the body.
Gadgets – What We Think Is Weird Now But Probably Use In 3 Years
MyFC showcased a pocket sized fuel cell charger which is fuelled by salt and water (sweat and tears powered!?)
Oral B has introduced a new version of the smart toothbrush using motion sensors and your phone’s camera to track your oral hygiene by recording and processing data on location, pressure and brushing time.
LG introduced the Rolling Bot – a small ball equipped with 8MP webcam and a laser pointer. The household robot can control your TV and appliances, monitor your home – and play with your cat with the laser pointer. Yep. Weird.
A little more serious news came again from Samsung with the Samsung Connect Auto dongle which plugs into a car’s OBD II diagnostic port (most cars built in the last two decades have this port) and lets drivers monitor their vehicle’s performance as well as locate it. It also acts as a Wi-Fi hotspot for connecting to the internet with other devices while in the vehicle. This is a remarkable approach as instead of building the connectivity features into new cars Samsung offers drivers of old cars the chance to upgrade. As product life-cycles of 10+ years are common for vehicles in most countries this could be a smart move.
Sony contributed a smart assistant in form of a Bluetooth enabled ear piece. The tiny “hearable” handles calls, it will read out texts and you can ask it to search the web for you.
Other gadgets worth mentioning are the Epson Mover BT-300 smart glasses, based on OLED technology, the HTC Vive VR headset which will be available in April this year and the result of AT&T, Inc. and Intel Corp. teaming up in order to test technologies for drones that will allow them to communicate over the 4G LTE network.