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13 March 2019

Reflecting on MWC 2019: The Year Smartphones Got Exciting Again

Written by: Olivia Thomas, Account Executive at Edelman

Innovation, Technology

Image credit: GSMA

As a Mobile World Congress (MWC) first-timer, stumbling wide-eyed into the Fira conference centre is akin to being launched into an alternate dimension. MWC is the biggest mobile trade show of the year, and a convergence of brand names that even the most ardent technophobe would recognise.

Wandering between the booths of the world’s biggest technology companies is like snatching a glimpse into the future. Industry rivals stand shoulder-to-shoulder, all jostling for attention as they showcase their latest gadgets and gimmicks.  

Of course, it wouldn’t be MWC without the world’s biggest smartphone makers unveiling their new devices (the clue’s in the name). And this year, the stakes were higher than ever.

Clash of the Smartphone Titans

It is a common claim that the rate of smartphone innovation has been slowing down, with brands annually releasing devices with solid yet predictable upgrades to the camera, battery-life or screen. This is forgivable, and not necessarily a bad thing. Smartphone developers hit a sweet spot with the current form factor – its functional, practical and universally familiar. When you pick up most modern smartphones, you know what to expect regardless of the brand name that’s stamped on the back. So it’s understandable for developers to iterate upon the same tried-and-tested formula, rather than reinvent the wheel.  

Yet, perhaps they’re doing their job too well. Recent reports state that we’re now hanging on to our old smartphones for longer than ever, rather than rushing out to buy this year’s latest model. And, as a result, some smartphone manufacturers are starting to feel the pinch.

In the incredibly competitive mobile industry, we waited with bated breath for a device that would completely redefine the smartphone experience. And MWC did not disappoint.

The Rise of the Foldable Screen

Foldable smartphones were impossible to ignore at MWC, with devices from Samsung and Huawei stealing the show. And deservedly so. They mark the most dramatic innovation to the smartphone form since, well, the invention of the smartphone. Plus, seeing a smartphone screen bend without breaking is mesmerising – it almost defies the rules of physics.

The launch of the first foldable smartphones seemed to have a domino effect on the rest of the industry. Other brands such as LG, Oppo and TCL all debuted their own quirky handsets. Oppo and TCL both dabbled in the foldable design, while Nokia released a budget device equipped with five rear cameras. And LG’s G8 ThinQ did away with facial and fingerprint recognition, using the veins in the palm of your hand to unlock the device instead.

And while the rest of the world geeked-out over foldable smartphones, screen manufacturer Royole went off the deep-end. Wholeheartedly jumping on the bandwagon, they put their flexible screens on everything from top hats to handbags (because, why not).  

5G Changes Everything

5G was the word on everyone’s lips at this year’s show. After all, the theme of MWC 2019 was ‘Intelligent Connectivity’, so naturally ‘5G’ was emblazoned literally everywhere, as mobile networks and smartphone manufacturers threw their hat in the ring.

We’ve all heard of 5G, even if we don’t fully appreciate what it means. And while it may not be as sexy as a bendable smartphone, its impact may be more profound. Sure, the leap from 4G to 5G means we’ll be able to download huge files in lightning-fast speeds, and stream movies or games on our smartphones instantaneously. But it’s also much more than that.

5G promises to enable new experiences, connecting the world in new ways. From autonomous vehicles to smart cities, its impact goes far beyond our smartphone screens. Yet in the immediate future, 5G-enabled smartphones are becoming commercially available right now. 5G has suddenly become something tangible. You can hold it in the palm of your hand (although, you may not be able to use it yet). So, while you won’t encounter driverless taxis on the streets of London just yet, you will be able to pick up a 5G-powered smartphone – making the connected future we’ve long been promised feel within our grasp. 

In this way, this year’s show was about more than just flashy gadgets and new smartphones. It was a thrilling glimpse into the future of the mobile industry – and raised the bar for future devices. Does this mean we’re entering a renaissance in mobile innovation, or will 2019 be remembered as the year of wacky smartphone novelties? Either way one thing is for certain: MWC 2019 got the world excited about phones again.

To hear more about MWC 2019, tune in to the latest episode of Sideload here.

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