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Top Smartphone Trends We Witnessed at Mobile World Congress 2012

March 1, 2012

It’s easy to get lost in the sea of Android news, updates, hands-on’s, and gadget releases that seemingly never stop. With the frenetic pace that mobile technology is advancing, it’s very difficult to slow down and look at the big picture. This is precisely why we’d like to pause for a while, and talk about the top smartphone trends that we observed at this year’s highly acclaimed Mobile World Congress. We’ve been up and running all this time, covering the latest events at MWC. But don’t you think now is the perfect time to get a bird’s eye view of the current smartphone trends? Let’s check them out.

Quad-Core Processors

If you’ve been following the news, almost everyone is talking about quad-core technology (even a 5th core) and quad-core devices. Has the world gone nuts? Yes, but in a positive way. You’ve heard it from the press releases and announcements. It is almost a fact that for a device manufacturer to dominate in today’s setting, it has to deal with quad-core processors first, or else, potentially risk alienating the most important consumer demographic: uber nerds aka early adopters, or evangelists. Basically, you’re in this group if you’re reading this.

Last week, too excited to wait for MWC, LG introduced the Optimus 4X HD – a device powered by a quad-core SoC. Then, HTC followed with its flagship quad-core smartphone, the One X. ZTE was also determined to ride the wave by unveiling the Tegra 3-powered Era. If that was not enough, Huawei flashed its own quad-core processor codenamed “K3V2”, which it is using in both the Ascend D Quad and the Ascend D Quad XL. Perhaps we need to question the need for quad-core  mobile devices, but we must also realize that the Android platform is constantly upgrading and evolving as well, with certain apps and functionalities that need more processing power. Either way, having more power than is necessary is a good thing, so long as battery life isn’t negatively affected.

Huge HD Screens

Apart from the blazing quad-core processor phenomenon, another popular trend nowadays are devices with humongous, high definition screens similar to that of the Galaxy Note and many others. Is this a good trend? As mobile devices increasingly become our primary device, consumers appear to be embracing this new form factor with great fervor. Why? Ask anyone that’s ever gone from an iPhone to a device with a 4.3 or 4.7 inch display. Truth is, for most consumers, there’s no way they can go back. Smartphones and they place they occupy in our lives means will continue to serve as our primary digital companion to the world. Because they go with us everywhere, the functionality they are capable of is only growing – not shrinking. Devices with smaller displays will increasingly be relegated to second tier status, and will, as we have already observed, received lower spec’ed tech. If the mantra before was “the smaller, the better”, consumers now are demanding huge screens that produce the best quality images and video, with resolutions at 1280 x 720 pixels – no more, no less.

As we’ve previously written about, both the LG Optimus 4X HD and the HTC One X have 4.7-inch screens with the same resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels. The Huawei Ascend D Quad and the Ascend D Quad XL have a slightly smaller screen of 4.5 inches but with 1280 x  720 screen resolutions as well. Either way, this is a trend that is likely to continue. Chances are, the display you are looking at Android Authority on right now is probably pretty close in resolution to the devices mentioned above – so really, we are talking about a nice progression forward in terms of display technologies.

Long Term Evolution

Of course, another top smartphone trend is LTE support. We cannot deny the fact that the number of smartphones supporting LTE data networks these days is becoming more and more numerous.  Despite concerns that LTE uses significantly more power than other communication protocols, the connectivity speed it brings to our mobile devices is unmatched.

The GSA (Global Mobile Suppliers Association) counts “approximately 180 wireless operators in 70 countries that are testing two LTE protocols, noting 128 firm commitments to deploy commercial services across 52 countries, and another 51 planned pilots in 18 other countries.” With this information in mind, and with over 64 LTE networks said to be in service by the end of 2012, manufacturers appear to be opting to produce models en masse that have LTE capability on board. Plus, Samsung and LG are both based out of Korea, which arguably has the most advanced smartphone economy in the world.

While it is true that the majority of mobile users, particularly in the U.S., are hooked on LTE, our fellow folks in greater Europe are still behind due to the constraints of some vendors and carriers. But it won’t take long for Europe to catch the LTE wave. Things get a bit tricky though, for us consumers. Why? Not all of the latest SoC’s (Systems on a Chip) work with LTE. For example, NVIDIA’s Tegra 3 quad-core processors don’t. NVIDIA is still working on its partnership with top modem chip manufacturers Renesas Mobile and GCT Semiconductor to fabricate LTE capabilities on their own chip. For this reason, the HTC One X has a quad core Tegra 3 processor for its HSPA+ variant on T-Mobile, while Sprint will have a dual-core Snapdragon variant because Tegra 3 still doesn’t play nice with LTE networks, like Sprints brand spanking new one.

Near-Field Communication

Near-Field Communication or NFC, emerges as one of the top trends for smartphones this year. First introduced last year, NFC is a short-range high frequency wireless communication technology that allows the transfer of data among devices that are within the distance of approximately 4 inches or 10 centimeters. Using the simple extension of the ISO/IED 14443 proximity card standard that combines the smart card interface and the reader into one device, NFC allows data exchange between devices as well as contactless transactions and mobile payments.

During this week’s Mobile World Congress, we saw this trend in action as top manufacturers like Samsung, Acer, LG, Nokia, Huawei, ZTE and Orange announced their own versions of smartphones that support NFC. And who wouldn’t love this technology? Sandy Shen, a Research Director at Gartner, said that the availability of more NFC phones this year will help drive NFC applications, first as free simple apps that include ads and coupons, then payments will follow.  But Sandy Shen added that the biggest challenge is not with NFC payments, but in changing the user’s behavior.

Cheaper Devices

Lastly, we cannot argue with the fact that this year will be one of the best years for Android.There’s a reason why Steve Jobs went nuts upon hearing about Android for the first time. He knew that it was a potential iPhone-killer. Android has two obvious advantages – flexibility and diversity of hardware. While it is true that some Android devices are costly, Android has a lot of inexpensive devices as well that cater to the lower end of the market.

This year’s Mobile World Congress is a testament to that statement. Acer’s Liquid Glow smartphone, scheduled to be released this summer, is an Android 4.0 entry-level smartphone. Acer has proven, that with Android, it is possible to come up with a less-expensive device without having to compromise its features. The trend is underway. Although not Android, Nokia’s Lumia 610, a Windows Phone, is priced at $254. Not bad for a Windows Phone.

Intel is also planning to catch the fire with its plan for a smartphone invasion early next year. Intel has been working on its 1GHz Z2000 processor – that we are about to see. According to Paul Otellini, the CEO of Intel, their flagship smartphones should cost less than $150 with carrier subsidies. It’s an interesting development that is positive on so many levels. Will smartphones get cheaper and cheaper year after year? The answer to this question is an undeniable yes. Of course, there will always be devices that are packing the latest and greatest technology on board, and they will carry a price premium. However, for those seeking devices that offer more, for less, there will be more and more to choose from  Year after year, Android devices will get cheaper and cheaper, with more features, more value, and more performance inside.

So, these are a few of the trends we witnessed at MWC 2012. Any thoughts?