You would think that the arms race in the smartphone world would have slowed down by now. But if you look at the products of the major mobile phone manufacturers, it becomes clear that it is still possible to go one step further, faster and more efficiently. Here are the five most important trends of this year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) at the end of February in Barcelona.
The developments surrounding 5G will overshadow everything
The new 5G mobile communications standard is casting its shadow, even though it will be a few years before it becomes a full-coverage network. While not even the frequencies have been auctioned off in Germany, the first mobile devices supporting the fast mobile wireless standard are already being presented in Barcelona. The conference also covers infrastructure topics, i.e. knowledge transfer and the presentation of equipment for the upcoming network expansion, although this will of course not be intended for end customers. IoT providers, in particular, are currently still struggling to define the standards in various markets.
It will be a few years before 5G can reach its full potential. According to the current Gartner Report on 5G, 90 percent of the population in the USA and Canada will be able to rely on a sufficient 5G network by 2023, but in Western Europe this expansion stage is not expected until 2026. The Ericsson Mobility Report is even more skeptical and predicts that only 30 percent of customers in Germany will be able to use 5G in 2023. The frequencies are very short wavelengths and therefore the high speed is accompanied by an extremely low range. This will require mobile communications providers in densely populated Germany to work together. On the other hand, 5G is the basis for a variety of marketing services within the context of the Internet of Things (IoT). In the automotive sector in particular, we will see numerous value-added services in the coming years that will be based on a reliable 5G network, for example in smart cities (e.g., parking space management or traffic forecasts).
Artificial intelligence for improved speech recognition
Artificial intelligence is also coming to the middle class. Thus far, AI elements were only something for the flagships among smartphones. But that could soon change. This year’s Mobile World Congress is featuring mid-range SoCs (processors, system-on-a-chip). Artificial intelligence is used primarily for image processing and voice search here. Such AI functions can, for example, help smartphones better interpret the vocal and linguistic characteristics of their owners and better understand them in the truest sense of the word. However, Sven Lubek, Managing Director of mobile advertising specialist WeQ Global Tech, is still cautious in his assessment of the potential: “At the moment, I don’t believe artificial intelligence will replace typing and swiping on the smartphone screen. Voice search, for example, still reaches its limits with more complex questions. Nevertheless, we see voice as an additional opportunity for app development and are watching the market very closely.”
AI elements can also be used in image recognition, for example in augmented reality and virtual reality environments. This shortens response times because some of the data that previously had to be transferred from the device to the cloud and back can now be handled using AI functions in the smartphone or tablet itself. In the future, it will also be possible to identify certain people using on-board resources.
More stamina via better battery technologies
Battery life remains one of the main nuisances of smartphones. With hardware becoming more and more powerful and heated competition with regard to cameras and larger, brighter displays, it is becoming increasingly difficult for manufacturers to build compact devices with sufficiently long battery life. The solution of installing 18,000 mAh batteries in devices, as the French manufacturer Avenir Telecom is presenting with its Energizer Power Max P18K at the MWC, is not everyone’s cup of tea, especially since the manufacturer is not yet revealing the dimensions and weight of the device. It could be smarter to use machine learning to study usage behavior in order to save battery power at the right moment if necessary. Not only various manufacturers are working on this, but also technology companies as service providers.
Folding screens are coming
Screens are getting bigger and bigger, and extending further and further to the edge of the smartphone. Infinity display is the magic word here, which should contribute to the fact that even devices with a screen size of more than 6 inches should still lie reasonably comfortably in one hand. This can only be music to the ears of video networks and video advertising providers, because the result is a bigger and more vivid experience for users thanks to larger screens and higher resolutions. And since that still isn’t enough for the manufacturers, we will likely see smartphones with foldable displays in Barcelona. Last November, Samsung presented the Galaxy X or F (as in fold) at a developer conference. When folded up, it won’t be bigger than an ordinary smartphone, but can be folded out to reveal a proud 7.3 inch display. Samsung has not yet revealed whether the device will be present in Barcelona. The Chinese manufacturer Xiaomi, which is number 4 worldwide, will possibly have a device with a foldable display in its luggage, which has been rumored for several weeks now.
The rediscovery of sound
After several years in which cameras became more and more powerful and the loudspeakers were given less and less space as a result, we are seeing a counter-trend: more emphasis is again being placed on audio technology. The new mobile phones are once again showing their superior sound—a trend that we already saw at various technology trade fairs in 2018. Sony, as the inventors of the Walkman, and LG are defining new standards in audio technology by, for example, improving the sound of compression processes like MP3 with the help of real-time conversion or enabling more voluminous sound. Complete renunciation of conventional loudspeakers in favor of piezoelectric loudspeakers, which causes the display to vibrate to produce sound, is also new. Both Samsung and Xiaomi are working on this technology. The focus on loudspeakers is also beneficial for podcast producers as well as providers of streaming services and audio advertising, who in recently published studies have discovered significantly longer usage times for audio offerings.
The bottom line: Nothing can get past 5G
Just as at last year’s DMEXCO there was hardly a conversation that didn’t include the topic AI, there will probably be no getting around the topic of 5G in Barcelona. But just as AI applications are far away from market maturity, it will take several years before 5G is state of the art everywhere. But mobile phone manufacturers also have a number of other focal points, especially in terms of hardware, as the arms race will continue for better displays, cameras and loudspeakers. Customers can look forward to it, as they will now also find technology that was previously reserved for top models in the affordable middle class.