BARCELONA — As smartphones start to mature, what can vendors possibly do to differentiate their phones from their rivals’ devices?
They can compete on camera quality, display sizes (including the breadth of a bezel), and features like dust-free and waterproof. Certainly application processors and modem speed can make a difference.
Just as personal assistants have ushered in the age of AI at home via smart speakers, now the same technology is coming to the phone. The race now begins with a question: Should a smartphone incorporate Amazon’s Alexa (i.e., Lenovo’s new Moto Mods — replaceable backs to the Moto Z) or Google Assistant (LG G6)?
New this year is a screen with an aspect ratio wider than ever before. LG is showing off here its brand new smartphone screen with an 18:9 ratio.
It’s unclear if breaking away from the conventional 16:9 is a good idea. But the word on the street is that LG won’t long remain the only company playing the aspect-ratio card. Reportedly, Samsung is expected to unveil an 18:9 display when it launches the Galaxy S8 next month. Some even say that Apple will follow suit in the fall.
The race to add “depth” to cameras might also be shaping up as a new thing. Huawei features a rear camera that uses 3D depth sensing to enhance images. Chirp Microsystems, with a brand new, tiny MEMS ultrasound sensor, also believes that its technology can play a role in 3D sensing in future smartphones.
Filling the void
All in all, Samsung’s decision not to launch its Galaxy S8 at this year’s MWC left a hole on the market, but this is a gap that everyone else doing smartphones is happy to occupy.
Mobile World Congress 2017
By all accounts, Huawei has been the most aggressive and successful thus far, head-to-head in Asia and Europe, versus Apple and Samsung in the premium phone market.
Ahead of the expected Samsung S8 launch, Huawei hopes to crash the queue with its new high-end P10 phone — scheduled to go on sale from March at 649 euros ($685) in Europe.
Also in hot pursuit of smartphone market share are Asian players such as ZTE, LG Electronics, and Lenovo-Motorola in the second tier. China’s Oppo, Vivo, and Xiaomi now control the world’s fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-biggest smartphone shares, according to Strategy Analytics.
(Source: Strategy Analytics)
Notable in this year’s MWC is the revival of old but familiar — and once widely popular — smartphone models. They are Nokia’s candy-bar phones and a Blackberry with QWERTY keyboard.
HMD Global, a new company led by ex-Nokia executives and backed by Chinese electronics giant Foxconn, is the architect of the retro movement for Nokia phones.
TCL, who started licensing the name Blackberry, unveiled the BlackBerry KeyOne here. In addition to the physical keyboard that sits below the screen, the KeyOne, covered in Gorilla Glass 4 on the front, features a 4.5-inch LCD with a 3:2 aspect ratio and resolution of 1620 x 1080. Its camera is 12 megapixels and uses a Sony sensor with 1.55-micron pixels.
If you were once a diehard fan of either a candy-bar phone or QWERTY keyboard, your prayers have been answered. Even if you’re too young to remember these relics of ancient telephony, you might be tempted — if only because your next smartphones will look different from everybody else’s.
In the following pages, EE Times explores the show floor of the MWC on Day One — just to see how smartphones, now middle-aged, look.