MWC 2013: What can we expect in Barcelona?

The checklist may not have been checked, the suitcase may not be packed, and the Spanish (ed : and Catalan) phrases may still require some learning, but ITProPortal nevertheless has its sights set on Barcelona for next week’s Mobile World Congress (25-28 February), one of the biggest tradeshows on the tech calendar.

But are these events somewhat losing their allure? The growing tendency among mobile manufacturers to host their very own launch event for new products (Apple, Nokia, Samsung, Google et al.) is threatening to reduce the importance of exhibitions like MWC, and you feel this year’s event could do with some genuinely headline-grabbing launches to restore doubters’ faith in the traditional tradeshow.

Tradeshows still taken seriously?

It goes without saying that Apple is above the folly of an open exhibition like MWC, and the Cupertino bods will be too busy planning their own WWDC conference to worry about the paupers getting hot and sweaty fretting over devices that aren’t prefixed with ‘i’s.

Major players HTC and BlackBerry have also shunned the opportunity to use Barcelona as the launch platform for their newly-revealed models, and Samsung looks set to follow suit by saving its next flagship, the Galaxy S4, for March. Sony ‘lowered’ themselves to a tradeshow launch with the Xperia Z unveiling in January, but only the mother of exhibitions – CES in Las Vegas – was deemed worthy for the occasion, something that was sure to rankle GSMA execs. (ed : As for Motorola, it is still M.I.A after the launch last year of the Motorola Razr i).

China’s latest opportunity to shine

As such, MWC 2013 could be noteworthy for showcasing products from less-established mobile manufacturers, particularly the emerging duo from China. Thanks to the pure volume of units they have shifted in the Asian market, Huawei and ZTE are now routinely acknowledged in lists of the best performing mobile companies, but neither can yet be said to offer a device worthy of a place among the smartphone elite.

It looks as if both firms will have a serious stab at changing that in Barcelona, however. For Huawei, its rumoured Ascend P2 handset is likely to carry the gauntlet, and if it packs the beastly 8-core processor that has been reported in some quarters, it will have no problem muscling its way to the top of the tech headlines. The latest Ascend is also purported to sport a full HD display, a 13-megapixel camera and offer 2GB RAM, all packed into a super-slim body. Should it live up to its billing, the device could be Huawei’s ticket to MWC supremacy.

As for ZTE, the firm is pinning its hopes on the ‘phablet’ formula so widely favoured at CES, and taking on the segment-leading Samsung Galaxy Note 2 with the ZTE Grand Memo (below, courtesy of Engadget) – even adopting the stationary inspired moniker to show its direct competition. The Memo’s jumbo 5.7in display may not carry the novelty factor of the very first ‘phablets’ we saw, but if consumers do start moving toward oversize handsets in greater numbers over 2013, ZTE could be well placed to take advantage with its MWC offering.

Perhaps more intriguingly, the Chinese company will also be unveiling a Firefox OS device – among the very first to feature Mozilla’s new mobile software – but this model is likely to play second fiddle to that of the Grand Memo, with just an entry-level or mid-range handset expected. Away from Chinese handsets, we look forward to seeing how big-time Nokia goes with its launch on Monday morning and taking a closer look at the recently unveiled LG Optimus Pro, among the wealth of other propositions that will be on show. James Laird has already rounded up the top 5 devices we should be on the look out for at MWC.

Software to usurp hardware?

As well as allowing emerging companies to take centre stage, another consequence of the big players cooling activity at MWC could be a focus shift from hardware to software. Specifically, we hope to check out the new operating systems hitting the market over the coming months, providing some welcome diversity in an iOS and Android-dominated world. Yes, Windows Phone and BlackBerry have updated their platforms to provide better competition of late, but the prospect of newer and fresher OSes is exciting.

Most of all, the unveiling of the aforementioned Firefox OS (below) from Mozilla will attract a great deal of attention on Sunday evening, not least because CEOs from Qualcomm, Deutsche Telekom and Telefonica will also be on stage; their presence suggesting this is a platform with some serious backing. It will certainly be interesting to see how Firefox OS distinguishes itself from other emerging open source systems such as Tizen, Open WebOS and Baidu.

Or, indeed, Ubuntu, which has just announced the expansion of its software repertoire to incorporate tablets. Canonical released a Touch Developer Preview this week which will work on the Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 tablets, alongside an SDK for smartphones. “The tablet interface is presented by exactly the same OS and code that provides the phone, PC and TV interfaces, enabling true device convergence," says Canonical, which promised more details at MWC, so stay tuned for that. Elsewhere, the insatiable consumer appetite for mobile apps is sure to be reflected on the show floor, and we’ll be keeping a close eye on how the software side of MWC is growing as the mobile landscape evolves.

Innovation

Of course, tradeshows would be decidedly more tedious if they were solely about what the big companies were showing off, so we have welcomed the recent email bombardment from startups striving to put themselves on the map at MWC with eclectic products and niche innovation.

One potential booth of intrigue belongs to MyFC, a Swedish company demonstrating what it calls the “world’s first portable fuel cell charger for consumer use that runs on ordinary water.” The PowerTrekk works by converting hydrogen gas into electricity to give your mobile a timely power boost when away from a plug socket, and in an age when smartphone battery-life remains so limited, we’ll be keenly investigating how credible such products are. A more immediate reality in this department is the Duracell Powermat – a product looking to lead the field in wireless charging technology - and we shall be speaking to the Powermat team.

But will it take something a little more left-field like the YotaPhone to really get heads turning? This particular device, originating in Russia, is a 4.3in Android smartphone from the front but sports an E-Ink display on the rear to become a specialist eBook reader when flipped around. Great idea or pointless fad? We hope to answer this question and a whole lot more next week. So get involved in our dedicated MWC 2013 hub at the top right of your page for breaking news, hands-on galleries, interviews, and features covering all the action and reaction in Barcelona. Hasta Pronto!