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
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.