Beyond the phones at MWC 2016
Aside from the usual smartphone launches, Saad Elkhadem says there were some significant developments at Mobile World Congress 2016
As is custom for this time of year, the world’s handset makers converged on Barcelona recently for the annual Mobile World Congress (MWC).
In the phone space, we saw releases across the board, including new flagships from Samsung, LG and Xiaomi, a trio of Xperia X devices from Sony, and mid-end devices from HTC. Once the dust had settled on these new mobile launches, a number of underlying factors and trends came to light. Here, we take a look at three of the most notable.
In the lead up to last year’s MWC, there were grumbles around the performance of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 810 processor that was being used to power a raft of high-end devices. The processor suffered from overheating issues, performance concerns, and memory bugs, which ultimately saw Samsung jump ship to its own in-house Exynos chips. There were no such complaints at this year’s event, with Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 820 processor providing more power, efficiency, and reliability than its predecessor.
This year’s biggest phone announcements all included Snapdragon 820. It features in LG’s G5, Xiaomi’s Mi5, and Sony’s Xperia X Performance, while Samsung has even returned to Qualcomm in certain geographies for its S7 and S7 Edge devices. So the company is undoubtedly making strides in the right direction, although a growing band of vendors are now looking to develop their own processors in a bid to reduce their dependency on Qualcomm.
Android’s App Drawer
Android and iOS have become the two dominant mobile operating systems, with IDC research showing that they accounted for a combined 98% of the smartphones shipped in the GCC during Q4 2015. In their early days, these two OS giants were quite different, but as the years and iterations have passed, they have steadily converged to become more and more similar to each other. And if rumors are to be believed, the next version of Android will signal the end of one of its most differentiating features, the app drawer, thus making Android and iOS even more alike.
For some time now, some OEMs such as Xiaomi and Huawei have omitted the app drawer from their Android user interfaces, and this trend gathered momentum at MWC 2016 with the unveiling of devices from Samsung, LG, and HTC. LG’s G5 and HTC’s One X9 were both released without an app drawer, and the settings on Samsung’s Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge give the user the option to either keep the app drawer or display all their apps on the home screen similar to the iPhone. Some have voiced happiness over this development, while others don’t understand why Google would get rid of one of its most significant features. However, it is likely that OEMs will get to choose the layout of their choice or simply leave the decision up to the consumer. The precise details should become a little clearer as we get closer to the unveiling of Android N.
Virtual Reality – Tech’s Next Big Bet
VR stole the show this year, which is no mean feat considering the event has traditionally been dominated by phones. Attendees enjoyed Samsung’s keynote in virtual reality courtesy of its Gear VR headset, with Mark Zuckerberg taking to the stage to explain how VR is indeed the future. Facebook owns Oculus, which partnered with Samsung to develop the Gear VR. Samsung is bundling a free Gear VR with its new S7 and S7 Edge devices for a limited period.
Not to be left out, LG unveiled its own mobile VR device known as the LG 360 VR, which is a headset that connects to the user’s mobile device via a USB C connection. This differs from Samsung, which places the phone in the actual headset. HTC also entered the VR fray at MWC, but this time with a PC-tethered console called the HTC Vive. This beast must be linked to a powerful PC that needs to meet specific requirements to get the most out of it. At $799, you will get a more powerful and immersive experience than the offerings from Samsung and LG, but it will likely only appeal to hardcore gamers in the short term due to the price tag (which, of course, doesn’t include the additional computing power that is also required) and the limited content that will initially be on offer.
Saad Elkhadem is research analyst, IDC MEA.