The three broad megatrends from MWC 2019

Prabhu Ram/CMR

The MWC19, the all-new, renamed ‘Mobile World Congress’, at Barcelona turned out to be one of the most exciting and significant editions of the event. The MWC19 announced the beginning of a brand new 5G era, and a new, vibrant phase of smartphone innovation.

With the theme of ‘Intelligent Connectivity’, this year’s MWC19 went beyond just devices, and embracing new realities arising from mobility. It is also safe to say that this MWC was a clear departure from recent editions of the Mobile World Congress or the CES that lacked the dynamism and vibrancy.

The 5G wave

The MWC saw the debut of 5G chipsets and 5G capable devices, and also heralded a new wave of exciting innovations in smartphone form factor – whether it be foldables, or wearable smartphones, or phones with 21:9 display. Between now and the MWC20, the time is challenging for the industry to adopt and adjust to the 5G growth pangs, and also ripe to bring forth a wave of new use cases.

Despite the evident ‘hype cycle’ surrounding 5G, it truly dominated the MWC19 agenda. Over the past year, significant progress has been made on 5G by all ecosystem stakeholders, ranging from 3GPP to device manufacturers, from infrastructure-support providers to device chipset manufacturers. 

Smartphone brands, including Huawei and Samsung unveiled their 5G smartphones at the MWC19. In typical Xiaomi fashion, Xiaomi came up with its MiMIX3 5G smartphone and setting a new price precedent of $679.  Other smartphone brands, including OnePlus, showcased their 5G concept devices.

It would only be fair to say that far more pressing challenges lie ahead, arising from limited to no network coverage for 5G. It will be early 2020 by when 5G adoption will slowly kick-in. 

Current 5G use cases, from the perspective of telecom operators, are more focused on B2B enterprise and industrial applications, in sharp contrast to the earlier generations (such as 4G) where B2C use cases and services were highlighted.

The foldable euphoria

In the run-up to the MWC19, Samsung via its “Unpacked” event, showcased its technological and innovation strengths through its latest, exciting engineering marvel, the Galaxy Fold. The Fold comes with a large tablet-sized display that can be folded to fit into a pocket. When folded, a smaller external display is used for the phone mode. At the MWC19, Huawei unveiled its version of the foldable smartphone, the Huawei Mate X. The Mate X comes with a single OLED display that when folded, transforms into a dual-screen smartphone. Unarguably, it is very compact and more attractive.

The onset of this new, brave innovation era, marked by foldable phones, could over the next few iterative innovation cycles, eventually eclipse phones and tablets, and give birth to a potential, and as yet unknown, new exciting form factor. 

For those who believe foldable phones are gimmicky, it is prudent to note that foldable phones exist, because it is natural for form factors to evolve. Both Samsung and Huawei have invested much efforts to make such devices a reality. The bottomline: True Innovations happen, because conditions are apt for them, and not because they are needed, or forced to. 

In the initial phase, foldables would potentially see more use in a ‘folded’ state only, with the large batteries providing unbeatable battery life. It could also potentially herald the arrival of smartphone as a true productivity tool.

While foldable phones have kicked-off a new, exciting phase, the road ahead will see greater integration of hardware and software, beginning with optimization of Android for the large display format. For app developers, foldable phones represent an exciting new opportunity to leverage and bring forth, new exciting app ideas. 

It is, but natural, for prices to be high for these new form factors. Over the course of next few innovation cycles, the folding phones could potentially become more mainstream. The entry of other smartphone brands into the foldable phone arena would set forth competition. As the scale of manufacturing increases, prices for the foldable phones will also rationalize.

Augmented reality rebooted

At the MWC19, Microsoft debuted its second generation, HoloLens 2.  Back in 2016, the original HoloLens AR headset was first released. The original HoloLens was also a high-end, enterprise piece of kit. In addition, it had some inherent drawbacks, including a narrow field of view. At the MWC19, the HoloLens 2 vastly improved upon the previous generation AR headset by making it more lighter, and comfortable to wear,  and with better battery life, than the original HoloLens. 

All said, this edition of the MWC19 was a truly remarkable one, celebrating a potential renaissance of smartphone industry. Make no mistake. The future for smartphone industry, from hereon, is full of possibilities.

Prabhu Ram heads the Industry Intelligence Group at CMR. He writes at www.prabhu-ram.com 

 

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