5 Big Trends Spotted at Mobile World Congress

Sizing up tablets and ‘phablets,’ and the battle for the third mobile ecosystem were all in play at Mobile World Congress.

A walk through the bigger-than-ever nine giant halls of 1,500 exhibitors at Mobile World Congress revealed a few trends at the annual mobile industry show in Barcelona. Although there was arguably a lack of blockbuster launches at this year’s MWC, the growth and sheer size of the event — estimated at 70,000 attendees, most of them suffering in suits — indicates the growing pie that is the mobile industry.

Unlike CES, where esoteric makers of iPhone covers vie for shelf space inside Best Buy or the Apple retail stores, MWC is much more about meetings, deal making and, increasingly, wooing developers. A large portion of the “booths” are mere meeting rooms — many companies go sans display in favor of just a glass door with a receptionist and guard out front.

Nonetheless, these are five trends — and a couple new and interesting shiny objects — spotted at this year’s MWC.

Trend #1: 7-inch vs. 8-inch Tablet

Asus Fonepad Android Tablet at Mobile World Congress

The 7-inch Asus Fonepad Intel-powered Android tablet (not to be confused with the Qualcomm-powered Asus Padfone).

Google’s built-by-Asus Nexus 7 tablet and the Apple iPad mini have blazed the trail here, because basically everybody is rolling out their own hand-sized tablet. It’s easy to see how convertibles and detachables could kill the 10-inch tablet while the 7- or 8-inch becomes the browser/reader/Facebook-stalking device of choice. The width of this form factor means you can hold the device in one hand, and the not-so-big screen means it doesn’t need a big, heavy battery — it’s Kindle-like light.

Samsung’s only product announcement at the show was the Galaxy Note 8.0 with a brilliant screen, a Samsung quad-core chip, and the same “S-Pen” digitizer that’s on the Samsung Windows 8 tablet.

Asus launched the Fonepad, an Android tablet that runs an Intel “Lexington” Atom Z2420 processor and an HSPA modem so you can make calls. Holding a 7-inch device up to your face to make calls might just add to the novelty.

According to Asus, the Fonepad will be available in Europe (with only a user-facing camera), Asia (with two cameras), and the United States (“TBD”). Announced pricing is $249. (Huawei also showed a low-cost 7-incher and HP announced a 7-inch tablet this week, shown only behind glass at HP’s booth.)

Trend #2: 5-inch vs. 5.5-inch ‘Phablet’

Maybe the Fonepad just stretched this trend a little, but Samsung’s once-novel Galaxy Note now has competition from nearly every other phone vendor. Asus, LG, Huawei, Lenovo, ZTE and Sony all have new phones here between 5 and 6 inches.

One standout seemed to be Lenovo’s K900, an Android smartphone that runs an Intel Atom Z2580 processor codenamed Clover Trail+, which was launched as the show. At 6.9mm, it’s the thinnest by a good millimeter, which sounds trivial, but really sets it apart. Buzz was that the other phablets tend to be a little chunkier, making them less pocketable.

The K900 has a stunning screen (as did the LG) and a couple small but savvy details. First, the front-facing camera has a really wide angle (88 degrees) lens, making for better self-portraits and video calls. And the touchscreen is crazy sensitive — you can scroll it with your fingernail.

Trend #3: The Rise of Chinese OEMs

In years past, ZTE and Huawei had smaller booths, off the beaten path, with mostly lower-cost devices sold only in China. Today, they each have huge pavilions, in the same rock-star hall that holds Nokia, Samsung, Motorola, Qualcomm and Intel.

Huawei was showing off two new flagship “Ascend” phones, both with very nice industrial design and their own quad-core silicon running inside. It also offers a variety of tablets.

ZTE also has a surprisingly large collection of devices — several super-class phones, the phablet, some mid-range stuff, a solid Windows 8 Atom tablet and even the first phone running Mozilla’s Firefox OS.

And although Lenovo did not have a huge presence here beyond the K900, they’re now the #2 smartphone vendor in China and expanding to more countries, including Russia, India, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Trend #4: The Fight for the 3rd Ecosystem is Still Wide Open

Lenovo K900 Android Smartphone at Mobile World Congress

Lenovo's K900 Android smartphone gets some hands-on attention from MWC attendees in Intel's booth.

One of the bigger headline makers at the show was Mozilla with its open-source, all-HTML5 mobile operating system, which now has backers in many phone makers and wireless carriers.

ZTE was showing the first Firefox device here, appropriately named the “Open,” a 3.5-inch entry-type smartphone built with Qualcomm inside. Mozilla’s Peter Dolanjski demoed the device in ZTE’s booth, explaining that this effort is really about kickstarting HTML5 for mobile and disrupting the closed app stores.

The Mozilla OS is truly open source — you can get all the code, although you can’t use the Firefox brand if you have your way with it. They’re focusing on entry smartphones as that’s where the growth is and where they’re more likely to win over cost-sensitive buyers. You can get apps from their store or anywhere online — and you don’t have to install anything if you just want to run the app once (no more “graveyard of apps” on your phone).

Tizen 2.0, the mobile OS backed by Intel, Samsung and Sprint among others, also stepped into the open source spotlight. According to CNET, both Samsung and Huawei will build Tizen-based phones, and Orange and NTT Docomo will sell them on their networks. This may point to a big year for HTML5.

Trend #5: Everything is Crazy Light

The only bad thing about that luscious K900? It weighs about one swallow of water. You’ve used your phone as a paper weight at least once, right? Not gonna happen with this. You’ll put the paper on top of the phone to keep it from blowing away.

All the superphones are like this now. There’s been a breakthrough in batteries, glass or something else that’s made all these new phones ridiculously light. Somewhere, someone must be pondering a Kickstarter project to make heavyweight phone covers.

5 Big Trends Spotted at Mobile World Congress

Sizing up tablets and ‘phablets,’ and the battle for the third mobile ecosystem were all in play at Mobile World Congress.

A walk through the bigger-than-ever nine giant halls of 1,500 exhibitors at Mobile World Congress revealed a few trends at the annual mobile industry show in Barcelona. Although there was arguably a lack of blockbuster launches at this year’s MWC, the growth and sheer size of the event — estimated at 70,000 attendees, most of them suffering in suits — indicates the growing pie that is the mobile industry.

Unlike CES, where esoteric makers of iPhone covers vie for shelf space inside Best Buy or the Apple retail stores, MWC is much more about meetings, deal making and, increasingly, wooing developers. A large portion of the “booths” are mere meeting rooms — many companies go sans display in favor of just a glass door with a receptionist and guard out front.

Nonetheless, these are five trends — and a couple new and interesting shiny objects — spotted at this year’s MWC.

Trend #1: 7-inch vs. 8-inch Tablet

Asus Fonepad Android Tablet at Mobile World Congress

The 7-inch Asus Fonepad Intel-powered Android tablet (not to be confused with the Qualcomm-powered Asus Padfone).

Google’s built-by-Asus Nexus 7 tablet and the Apple iPad mini have blazed the trail here, because basically everybody is rolling out their own hand-sized tablet. It’s easy to see how convertibles and detachables could kill the 10-inch tablet while the 7- or 8-inch becomes the browser/reader/Facebook-stalking device of choice. The width of this form factor means you can hold the device in one hand, and the not-so-big screen means it doesn’t need a big, heavy battery — it’s Kindle-like light.

Samsung’s only product announcement at the show was the Galaxy Note 8.0 with a brilliant screen, a Samsung quad-core chip, and the same “S-Pen” digitizer that’s on the Samsung Windows 8 tablet.

Asus launched the Fonepad, an Android tablet that runs an Intel “Lexington” Atom Z2420 processor and an HSPA modem so you can make calls. Holding a 7-inch device up to your face to make calls might just add to the novelty.

According to Asus, the Fonepad will be available in Europe (with only a user-facing camera), Asia (with two cameras), and the United States (“TBD”). Announced pricing is $249. (Huawei also showed a low-cost 7-incher and HP announced a 7-inch tablet this week, shown only behind glass at HP’s booth.)

Trend #2: 5-inch vs. 5.5-inch ‘Phablet’

Maybe the Fonepad just stretched this trend a little, but Samsung’s once-novel Galaxy Note now has competition from nearly every other phone vendor. Asus, LG, Huawei, Lenovo, ZTE and Sony all have new phones here between 5 and 6 inches.

One standout seemed to be Lenovo’s K900, an Android smartphone that runs an Intel Atom Z2580 processor codenamed Clover Trail+, which was launched as the show. At 6.9mm, it’s the thinnest by a good millimeter, which sounds trivial, but really sets it apart. Buzz was that the other phablets tend to be a little chunkier, making them less pocketable.

The K900 has a stunning screen (as did the LG) and a couple small but savvy details. First, the front-facing camera has a really wide angle (88 degrees) lens, making for better self-portraits and video calls. And the touchscreen is crazy sensitive — you can scroll it with your fingernail.

Trend #3: The Rise of Chinese OEMs

In years past, ZTE and Huawei had smaller booths, off the beaten path, with mostly lower-cost devices sold only in China. Today, they each have huge pavilions, in the same rock-star hall that holds Nokia, Samsung, Motorola, Qualcomm and Intel.

Huawei was showing off two new flagship “Ascend” phones, both with very nice industrial design and their own quad-core silicon running inside. It also offers a variety of tablets.

ZTE also has a surprisingly large collection of devices — several super-class phones, the phablet, some mid-range stuff, a solid Windows 8 Atom tablet and even the first phone running Mozilla’s Firefox OS.

And although Lenovo did not have a huge presence here beyond the K900, they’re now the #2 smartphone vendor in China and expanding to more countries, including Russia, India, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Trend #4: The Fight for the 3rd Ecosystem is Still Wide Open

Lenovo K900 Android Smartphone at Mobile World Congress

Lenovo's K900 Android smartphone gets some hands-on attention from MWC attendees in Intel's booth.

One of the bigger headline makers at the show was Mozilla with its open-source, all-HTML5 mobile operating system, which now has backers in many phone makers and wireless carriers.

ZTE was showing the first Firefox device here, appropriately named the “Open,” a 3.5-inch entry-type smartphone built with Qualcomm inside. Mozilla’s Peter Dolanjski demoed the device in ZTE’s booth, explaining that this effort is really about kickstarting HTML5 for mobile and disrupting the closed app stores.

The Mozilla OS is truly open source — you can get all the code, although you can’t use the Firefox brand if you have your way with it. They’re focusing on entry smartphones as that’s where the growth is and where they’re more likely to win over cost-sensitive buyers. You can get apps from their store or anywhere online — and you don’t have to install anything if you just want to run the app once (no more “graveyard of apps” on your phone).

Tizen 2.0, the mobile OS backed by Intel, Samsung and Sprint among others, also stepped into the open source spotlight. According to CNET, both Samsung and Huawei will build Tizen-based phones, and Orange and NTT Docomo will sell them on their networks. This may point to a big year for HTML5.

Trend #5: Everything is Crazy Light

The only bad thing about that luscious K900? It weighs about one swallow of water. You’ve used your phone as a paper weight at least once, right? Not gonna happen with this. You’ll put the paper on top of the phone to keep it from blowing away.

All the superphones are like this now. There’s been a breakthrough in batteries, glass or something else that’s made all these new phones ridiculously light. Somewhere, someone must be pondering a Kickstarter project to make heavyweight phone covers.