Mobile World Congress is roaring back. After a 2013 show which saw some of the hottest news come from backroom deals, it looks like the eye candy has returned. We've seen so many invites for press events at this year's huge mobile phone trade show that many time slots are double and triple booked.
The show is in Barcelona, and everything will start happening on Sunday, although the official kick-off isn’t until Monday morning, with the show running through until Thursday (though the final day is very low-key, so don’t expect much news then). So what can you expect to see at MWC 2014? Read on and find out.
Phones and tablets
We may see the first fruit of the new relationship between Foxconn and BlackBerry at MWC. DigitalTrends reports that the chairman of Foxconn said they'd display the first Foxconn Berries in Barcelona, but don't think this is going to be high-end stuff; it's more likely to be the inexpensive "Jakarta," a new BlackBerry designed for the Indonesian market.
HTC is holding several small events throughout the show, but we probably won't see the follow-up to the HTC One until 25 March, when HTC is hosting New York and London press events to shows off its "next big bet product that will be our primary flagship for 2014." At MWC, though, HTC will still have its hands full explaining how it's going to turn around its persistently declining fortunes, and maybe we'll hear more about the company's new take on lower-end phones.
Huawei's curve ball may be a smartwatch, according to the Wall Street Journal. In a teaser video released on 16 February, the number three phone maker tipped a new smartphone and two tablets, one of which includes LTE connectivity, but there was no mention of a smartwatch, so stay tuned.
LG already introduced its G Pro 2 phablet (pictured above) in Korea, and it will get a worldwide debut on Sunday at MWC. We'll also see the 4.7in G2 Mini, which LG officially announced on Wednesday. An LG smartwatch, possible called the "G Arch," may also make an appearance. (Let's note this isn't LG's first smartwatch; the company had an unsuccessful watch-phone a few years ago.) I'm inclined to disbelieve the rumours of an LG G3 launch at the show, as the G2 is only about six months old and has plenty of time left to play in the market. Instead, look for additions to the company’s mid-range the L Series.
Meizu, a high-end Chinese phone manufacturer, is expected to announce a North America-compatible, LTE-packing version of its slim MX3 smartphone (see above) at the show. At CES, company reps told me Meizu wanted to take a stab at the US market, and it sounded like Barcelona was where it wanted to make the announcement.
Nokia is expected to unveil the Nokia X on Monday morning – the latest evolution of its inexpensive Asha feature phones. While the X is based on the open source version of Android, it won't appear to be an "Android" phone at all, as it'll run Nokia and Microsoft services in place of the usual Google ones. It'll run some Android apps, though, and possibly the Amazon Appstore. Reliable leaker @evleaks says it'll have a 4in, 800 x 480 screen and will come in six colours.
Samsung is having an "Unpacked 5" event on Monday night, which we expect will be the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S5. ZDNet Korea reports that the company will also unveil the Galaxy Gear 2 smartwatch and Galaxy Tab 4 line of tablets at the show. The Galaxy Gear and Tab 3 line are pretty recent, but they didn't sell very well. ZDNet says the new smartwatch will have "renovated designs" and that the tablets will be quite affordable.
We'll also see whether Samsung's new arangement with Google marks the death of Samsung's rumoured Tizen phone, which the company had been planning to launch at this show until very recently. One rumour I don't think we'll see at the show is the Samsung "Huron" Windows Phone, which will wait for the Windows Phone 8.1 announcement at the beginning of April.
Sony is having an event Monday morning where it plans to introduce at least one phone. The hottest rumours are around the D6503, which looks like a refresh of the Sony Xperia Z1 with a 5.2in screen and 4K video recording.
ZTE just might have the first Tizen phone at the show, a model called the ZTE Geek, according to PhoneArena. The big Chinese manufacturer will have at least three or four new phones at the show; the big question, literally, is whether one of them will be the Nubia Z7 6.44in phablet beast, which PhoneArena says is supposed to arrive in March or April.
Operating systems and platforms
Apple never turns up at this show, and Google saves its announcements for its own I/O conference. But if you're interested in the OS wars, there's a lot going on.
There's a Firefox event on Sunday, where Mozilla will try to gain some traction for the slow growing Firefox OS. The presence of the new Geeksphone Revolution will help burnish the brand, and Alcatel OneTouch told TrustedReviews that it will have several new Firefox OS devices to display.
Microsoft is throwing a small event on Sunday, but we don't expect to see Windows Phone 8.1 quite yet. Our sources say that the next big Windows Phone announcement is coming at Microsoft's Build conference at the beginning of April. What will the next version of the OS contain? Oracle of all things Microsoft, Mary Jo Foley at ZDNet says there will be a new notification centre, voice assistant, VPN support, and common app development between Windows Phone and Windows RT.
Samsung's Tizen platform was supposed to be the company's plan B if its relationship with Google went south, but a new Samsung-Google deal just shunted Tizen once again into supporting player status. The Tizen Association just called out Baidu, Softbank, Sprint, and ZTE as prominent new members and it's holding an event on Sunday: Could we finally see the first Tizen phone, but from ZTE rather than Samsung?
I think Nokia's AOSP Android-based platform fits in this category, too. Analyst Ben Bajarin has said that non-Google, AOSP-based Android is a significant part of Android device sales, and that Android can't be considered primarily a Google platform anymore. Nokia moving its Asha line to its own fork of Android will accelerate the trend.
We've also heard that Canonical is going to be showing new developments in the Ubuntu ecosystem. Earlier this week, it announced the first signed agreements with handset makers to ship devices running the Linux-based operating system.
Intel, Qualcomm, and Mediatek are all throwing events at Mobile World Congress this year.
Intel dropped some hints in its press invite for Monday morning. Tizen will play a role, as will "growing assets across communications" (meaning chipsets with integrated modems) and the "Internet of Things," which may mean some more aggressive Quark chip demos than we saw at CES, where some of Intel's "Internet of Things" demos were running on the competing ARM architecture. VR-Zone.com reported that Intel will launch two processors for tablets and smartphones at the show: One for Android tablets and a 64-bit variant of Bay Trail-T.
From Qualcomm, expect the news to focus on LTE-Advanced and the company's leading prowess with integrated modems.
Mediatek just announced an inexpensive octo-core processor, but promises more chipset surprises at a Sunday event.