MWC 2014: The 5 most important trends we spotted

Mobile World Congress 2014 was the biggest, loudest, and busiest MWC show in years. There were so many phone releases that it was hard to keep track – not just the Samsung Galaxy S5 and Sony Xperia Z2, but there were new models from Alcatel through to Hisense. You can see our full coverage from throughout the week on our Mobile World Congress page.

And naturally enough, the gigantic show, with around 75,000 people attending, had some major trends cascading throughout. Take a look at what we thought were some of the biggest overall messages of Mobile World Congress 2014.

Super-cheap smartphones

The number one trend at MWC, bar none, was super-cheap smartphones for the developing world. ARM showed off a $33 (£20) Android-powered smartphone (see the image above), and Firefox promised a "flood" of $25 (£15) devices. The Nokia X line is a project to drive Android-powered smartphones with Microsoft services to as cheap a level as possible (€89, which is £73).

Cheaper smartphones for the developing world means cheaper smartphones for us in the UK, too. By 2015, anyone who still has a feature phone is going to have it because they want it, not because they can't afford a smartphone.

5G

Nobody knows what 5G is, and the term was kind of a joke at this year's show, but all of the network vendors were talking about it. 5G is a concept for 2020, but for it to happen in 2020, everybody has to start thinking about it now. It's probably not going to be about faster mobile Internet speeds, but rather finding a way to cover all 7 billion people on the planet with fast, affordable connections.

It's not just about people, either. In Ericsson's gigantic MWC booth, the company used the 5G concept to envision a world where everything was connected to the network, too: Every building, every room, every car, every appliance, every air conditioning unit. A network with that many devices on it is going to need a new kind of architecture, and the industry's just starting to figure out exactly what that might be.

Wristband wearables

Forget Google Glass. It makes you look like a jerk. The official GSMA Best in Show product was the Samsung Gear Fit (shown below), Samsung's curved smartwatch. At Mobile World Congress this year everyone was asking about "wearable strategy."

Samsung, Sony, and Huawei all took different approaches: Samsung puts more intelligence on your wrist, Huawei thinks you want to be wearing a Bluetooth headset, and Sony is into recording your daily activities for "life logging." HTC and LG insisted that they have wearables coming soon, while Motorola and BlackBerry disparaged them.

Samsung retreated from the full Android experience on smart watches with its Tizen-powered Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo, but smaller vendors like Omate stepped into the breach with full Android devices for the wrist.

64-bit and octo-core processors

64-bit processors are now table stakes for mobile chipmakers, and it's not just about addressing more than 4GB of RAM. Processors such as Intel's Moorefield, shown in the reference phone above, speed up performance with new instructions and the ability to deal with larger chunks of memory at once.

All the chipmakers at Mobile World Congress seem to be scaling up in terms of cores, but you're not supposed to use all eight cores in an "octo-core" chip at once. Rather, this is a play to balance power and battery life. Octo-core chips are really a low-power quad-core paired with a high-power quad-core, where the more powerful cores only kick in when needed. Phones would spend most of their time using the low-power processors, which would extend battery life. Also, it's easy to market eight as better than four.

Struggling operating systems try harder

It's still an Android and iOS world, but that's not for a lack of options. Windows Phone, Tizen, Ubuntu (shown above), Firefox, and BlackBerry all had significant presences at the show. Firefox announced a slew of new phones, BlackBerry had two new devices and Windows Phone announced a whole bunch of new partners. Tizen, meanwhile, finally nabbed its first consumer devices in Samsung's Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo smartwatches, as we’ve already mentioned.