Mobile World Congress to unveil new tech to put the future in the palm of your hands

We look at the latest innovations from the world’s mobile phone makers

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 February, 2016, 12:01am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 February, 2016, 9:24pm

The annual Mobile World Congress in Barcelona – the largest and perhaps the most important trade fair for the mobile communications industry – will take place between February 22 and 25 this year.

Most participants are reluctant to divulge much information about products that they will be announcing in the coming week but we can expect new features that will push the mobile experience to a new level.

Android smartphones and tablets

According to Roberta Cozza, research director at Gartner, a number of Android vendors will release the next generation of their smartphone flagships at MWC 2016. “We’ll, hopefully, see an increased focus on differentiation by enabling unique, but relevant experiences, expansion to new functionalities and better tie to key app and service ecosystems.”

Attending the fair will be the usual suspects as well as smaller independent companies.

LG is expected to reveal its flagship smartphone at the MWC. We may see a G Flex variant released and a G5 to follow after the event.

Samsung showed off its latest flagship phones last year with the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge. Eyes are on the S7 and likely S7 Edge, and whether they can pull out a processor fit for a 2016 benchmark reference.

There has been talk of a foldable phone and if that becomes a commercial reality, it will be a nice change from the slab form that dominates at present.

HTC could be showing off its all-metallic One M10 flagship device. Judging by its offerings last year, expect to see HTC diverging and coming up with non-phone gadgets such as the Grip fitness band (which has been delayed) and the RE camera, GoPro’s competitor.

While Microsoft has already released its 950 and 950 XL we may yet see some mid-range devices. It would be a good strategy for the company to diversify. Also, there has not been much news about its virtual reality headset, the HoloLens, so maybe that will put in an appearance.

Sony released its flagship devices at the end of last year, but the company is known for short release cycles so may have something more to come. The phones will most likely be waterproof.

Huawei unveiled its Mate 8 at last month’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas and will be at MWC, hopefully to unveil a number of affordable mid-range phones.

The Chinese contingent will also include ZTE, best known for its affordable phones, as well as BQ – a lesser-known brand that will be bringing the first off-the-shelf tablet running Canonical Inc’s Ubuntu OS. Ubuntu has always been one of the most user-friendly Linux-based distributions and recently entered the mobile phone market.

Chinese smartphone brands seem few and far between at MWC 2016 but it’s highly likely that they’re waiting for their own version of the event in Shanghai in June.

Hugo Barra, who was a project manager at Google and is now vice-president of Xiaomi, recently announced on Twitter that the Mi 5 will be the company’s highlight at the show. Xiaomi worked with Microsoft to release a Windows 10 tablet a couple of months ago so it’s possible that the Mi 5 will come with a Windows 10 variant. All that is known at this stage is that the Mi 5 will have the latest Snapdragon 820 processor inside.

Nokia (remember that brand?) has been given the green light to merge with Alcatel-Lucent so we will see if this collaboration can breathe life back into the company.

After the release of its Priv last year, BlackBerry is expected to announce another Android device, but at a more affordable price. There have also been rumours that the Canadian phone maker might move its Passport to Android but with so many supporters, we won’t be seeing the end of BB10 OS just yet.

Apple iPhone

Apple releases a full redesign of its iPhone every two years – the models with the “s” suffix are not redesigns, but updates – so a new model is due sometime around September 2016.

Apple is traditionally tight-lipped about its models until they have been officially announced, but there have been some leaks about the design features of the iPhone 7.

Nothing is confirmed yet, but it’s rumoured that the iPhone 7, or perhaps just the 7 Plus, will ship with a new camera. The iPhone 6s included an improved camera, but the 7 may feature a new design that will use 12-megapixel dual-lens technology to deliver optical image stabilisation, and DSLR quality images.

The design is based on technology that Apple acquired when it bought Israeli camera-technology company LinX, and could lead to a smaller, non-protruding camera which takes clearer, brighter pictures and performs more effectively in low light.

The 3.5mm headphone jack is rumoured to be on the way out.

“I think for iPhone 7 we’re going to lose the headphone jack and all audio will come from the Lightning port,” says iPhone user Francesco Spiezia, founder of Bespoke Atelier, a US-based apps design company.

Losing the jack would also lead to a slimmer phone, perhaps down to 6mm/6.5mm from the iPhone 6’s 6.9mm. Lightning technology will also lead to better audio quality, and Apple are said to be working on Lightning ear-pods to ship with the iPhone 7, as well as wireless Bluetooth earphones.

Other possibilities include a more rugged water-resistant model with pads which automatically extend to protect the phone from a fall and a higher-resolution QHD (quad high definition) screen.

Spiezia’s wish list includes an easier physical interface: “I would love to see all the buttons on the perimeter of the phone disappear, and the sides and back of the device become touch sensitive, similar to the new Apple TV remote,” he says.

The iPhone 7 should retail at about the same price as the 6 – and not everyone is planning to buy a new model. “I can’t see how much they can improve,” says Hong Kong-born Flora Kay, a US-based make-up artist.

“Even the 5 and the 6 aren’t much different, although the 6 is a little faster and has a higher defintion camera. That’s why I am in no rush to upgrade.”

Wearables

Research company Gartner points out that worldwide sales for wearable devices is expected to grow by 18.4 per cent this year while sales of smart watches are expected to total about 50 million units. Things to look out for in this category are the added features, practicality and battery life.

Samsung has made good progress in the past year with the Gear S2 platform so it wouldn’t come as a surprise if there is a follow-up in that series.

Likewise, LG, Huawei and Pebble will all announce smartwatches of their own but whether they’re evolutionary or revolutionary remains to be seen.

life@scmp.com