MWC 2014: Three takeaways
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Now that Mobile World Congress 2014 is over, it is time to take a step back and look at the key trends that dominated the show and reflect on how they relate to the next generation of mobile technologies.
Although there were some great tablets announced at MWC 2014, including the Sony Xperia Tablet Z2, the Huawei MediaPad X1 and the innovative Lenovo Yoga 10 HD+, smartphones still dominated the show both at the high-end and at the low-end. At the high-end Samsung, Sony and LG all launched premium devices including the Samsung Galaxy S5, the Sony Xperia Z2 and the LG G Pro 2.
At the other end of the spectrum devices like the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 2, which features a quad-core processor, a 5 inch 720p HD display and an 8MP camera all for under 200 Euros (and possibly less), show that you don’t need to spend $600 to $700 to get a usable smartphone. Even cheaper than Alcatel’s offering and certainly more controversial was the new Android powered Nokia X family, the cheapest of which costs around $125 (89 Euros).
What were conspicuous by their absence was leading smartphones with displays greater than full HD and any mention of handsets with 64-bit processors. Although phones like the Oppo Find 7 and Vivo XPlay 3S will bring higher resolution displays, the mainstream manufacturers didn’t have much to say in this area. To fill this gap the handset makers have turned their attention to other technologies including waterproofing, imaging and health. Previously Sony upped the ante by making some of its devices water and dust proof by default, now Samsung has done the same. Although Samsung had waterproofing on the “Active” versions of the its Galaxy phones, it has now added it by default to the standard S5. This means that from now on we can expect to see water and dust resistance as a standard feature on many flagship devices.
According to the Guinness book of World Records the LG Optimus 2X was the world’s first commercial dual-core smartphone. It was released three years ago and used a 1 GHz dual-core Cortex-A9 processor from NVIDIA. It had a 4 inch display with a resolution of 480 x 800 pixels. It cost around $450. At the time it was considered a premium device. Fast-forward three years and the Nokia X has similar specs but it costs just $125. The new X range has its detractors, those who want Google’s services, those who say that a dual-core phone is under powered. Maybe these criticisms are justified and maybe they are not. For $125 the Nokia X looks to be a stunning device. However you feel about Nokia and its use of Android combined with Microsoft’s services, there is one thing that is guaranteed, Nokia has changed the face of the low-end smartphone market. While some are competing at the high-end, there are millions of potential customers who will never be able to afford a flagship phone (without selling body parts – don’t laugh it has happened), for those people Nokia has changed the game and it will be interesting to see how the other handset makers respond.
However you feel about Nokia and its use of Android combined with Microsoft's services, there is one thing that is guaranteed, Nokia has changed the face of the low-end smartphone market.
#1 High-end smartphones are tougher but not necessarily much faster and the standard for low-end smartphones has been raised.
Clearly wearables, which includes just about everything you can hang on your body (or clothes) from smart glasses to fitness bands is the next big thing. The killer product hasn’t yet been launched but some are maybe coming close. There was lots of buzz during the show and several of the big names are dipping their toes into the wearable market, some for the second time. At the top of the list is Samsung. During the show it launched three cool devices in the Gear 2, the Gear 2 Neo, and the Gear Fit. The Gear Fit is particularly interesting as it doesn’t try to be a standard watch and yet manages to deliver many of the smartwatch functions in a device which is essentially a fitness band.
Others showing off wearables were Sony with its SmartBand and Huawei with its interesting TalkBand B1. There were also promises from companies like Motorola and HTC that they would release wearable tech soon.
#2 Wearables is the new tech buzz word. There isn’t a killer product yet, but it will come.
At the heart of much of the new technology showcased at MWC is a processor and most of the processors at MWC were based on the ARM architecture. Whether it was Qualcomm with its new Snapdragon 801 or Samsung with its hexa- and octa-core processors or the chips in all those wearable devices, ARM was the king of MWC 2014.
64-bit processors based on the ARMv8 instruction set are coming. Several companies have announced Cortex-A53 packages including Qualcomm, MediaTek and Marvell, however they aren’t in commercial production yet. They are close, but mass production won’t happen until the second half of this year. That means that in real terms, 64-bit Android devices will likely be released during MWC 2015 or possibly during some special events in the run up to the 2014 holiday season.
So instead of 64-bit processors the top chipmakers had to stick with the tried and tested formula of adding more cores, ramping up clock speeds and integrating better GPUs.
So instead of 64-bit processors the top chipmakers had to stick with the tried and tested formula of adding more cores, ramping up clock speeds and integrating better GPUs. Which is all good stuff, but none of it really had any punch, no WOW factor.
Having said that, the wearables market and the low-end smartphone market has demonstrated beyond doubt that it isn’t all about high performance. Small, power efficient processors are what are needed for wearables and dual-core processors are still very much in demand. Like the smartphone releases, the high-end SoC announcements at MWC 2014 reflect an industry plateau as we wait for the big move to 64-bits. But at the low-end, the market is thriving in smartphones, wearables and int he Internet of Things.
#3 The wait for 64-bits means that SoC innovation appears to be stalling slightly but the need for ultra power-efficient processors is pushing the market in a fresh direction.
Do you agree with this analysis? What other trends did you see coming out of MWC 2014? Please share your comments below.