7 things you should know about MWC 2014

If you are a phone geek, there was no better place on Earth to be this week than Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona. MWC is the largest mobile trade show in the world, and there were a host of new products launches at the show. This was my first time at MWC, and I didn't quite know what to expect. It isn't quite as big as the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, but when you are lost in one of MWC's seven halls or waiting in a 45-minute cab line to get back to the city centre, it certainly feels like it is.

If you weren't able to make it to Barcelona, or didn’t manage to follow all our coverage of the event this week, here are seven important things you should know about which helped to define MWC 2014.

1. Predictable Samsung Galaxy S5 launch

Without a doubt, the biggest handset at the show was the Galaxy S5. Samsung's Galaxy devices are the most successful Android phones on the market, going directly up against the Apple iPhone 5S in terms of features and sales. The Galaxy S5 is a step up from the Galaxy S4 in every way. The phone uses a 2.5GHz Qualcomm processor, has a bigger 5.1in screen, and a faster 16-megapixel camera that will make grabbing quick photos even easier. The phone also has some new tools for managing battery life, like a power-saving mode that can power basic features for 24 hours on just 10 per cent of a charge. Throw in a built-in fingerprint sensor and heart rate monitor, and you have a handset that is like no other on the market.

Even so, the response to the Galaxy S5 was fairly muted among the tech press. Maybe it was because the timing was completely predictable, or that the launch event was relatively sedate (by Samsung standards, anyway). Or maybe it is because Samsung has developed a reputation for adding incremental features every year. Regardless, the Galaxy S5 is the phone that will have the biggest impact in 2014; mark our words.

2. Big vendors debuting wearable devices

MWC 2014 also showed that wearables are going mainstream. Vendors like Basis and FitBit have been building trackers for some time, but almost every consumer electronics vendor is jumping into the fray. Samsung added the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo to its smartwatch line-up and threw in an even more intriguing Gear Fit, which delivers step tracking, heart rate monitoring, and displays Android notifications on its OLED touchscreen. Sony already has a SmartWatch, but at MWC it showed off its SmartBand fitness tracker and life logging platform. Even Huawei jumped in with its TalkBand B1.

3. The super-budget smartphone push

Living in the UK, where the vast majority of phone purchases are subsidised by service contract fees, it is easy to forget just how expensive smartphones are. The retail price of a top-of-the-line smartphone is in excess of £500. Even low-end models rarely cost less than £100. At MWC there were a number of efforts to bring that number down to help connect the developing world. Nokia announced the Nokia X at €89 (£73), an Android-based handset that is priced to be more affordable than the Lumia line, but higher-end than its Asha line. Mozilla launched an initiative to build a $25 (£15) Firefox OS-based handset with the help of Shanghai-based Spreadtrum. Vendors have been trying to do this for years, of course, but it seems like the cost of components is finally low enough to make this happen.

4. Carriers terrified of WhatsApp

Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg held a keynote at the show, but all anyone wanted to talk about was WhatsApp, the messaging application that he bought for $19 billion (£11.4 billion). In the US, WhatsApp is a relatively unknown service, as unlimited SMS gets bundled into almost every service contract, and the appeal of WhatsApp often gets lost. In the rest of the world, where SMS charges are sold a la carte, WhatsApp is an attractive way to cheaply send text and images to friends. What's more, at the show, WhatsApp executives announced that it would probably add some kind of voice service soon. Suffice to say, these kind of over-the-top messaging applications scare carriers all over the world.

5. Privacy control is a key feature

When news broke late last year of an effort to build a truly secure consumer smartphone, I was sceptical. It sounded like a great Kickstarter campaign, but building hardware is hard. Just a few months later, Blackphone is showing off working phones with a custom Android OS and a host of secure communication features. The Blackphone (pictured above) can secure your texts, calls, and local storage using encryption, but unfortunately not your email. (Sadly, no one can). Nonetheless, the phone was one of the most popular at the show. Do note, though, that the handset won’t make you NSA-proof, and it’s also set to retail at $629 (£375).

6. Fujitsu Tactile Sensation Screen

For me the fun of any big show is the stuff at the margins. These are the products that may not ever see a retail store, but you can actually play them with on the show floor. At MWC, one of those products was the Fujitsu screen with dynamic haptic feedback. It looks like an ordinary touchscreen, but it uses sonic waves to create the feeling of texture on a completely flat touchscreen. Close your eyes and you would swear you were feeling sand, or a vault dial, or even a drop of water. It was very cool and something that could add an appealing dimension to any touch-based device.

7. 5G is going to be big – whatever 5G is

The other big trend at the show was 5G. Everyone was talking about 5G, but there was absolutely no consensus about exactly what 5G is, let alone how it would work. Dr Wen Tong and Dr Peiying Zhu of Huawei wrote this, let's just call it "promising," description of 5G in the Mobile World Congress show daily: "For 5G network operators, bottlenecks for creating and implementing new services will be eliminated. For 5G network users the possibilities for creating new mobile application innovations will be endless."

Sounds pretty good, right? That definitely answers the why 5G question. For the how, what, where, and when of 5G we will have to wait for Mobile World Congress 2015. I'll be there.

For more on this week’s show, see our handy guide to all the best gadgets unveiled at MWC 2014.