What's ahead for mobile: New OSes, cheaper 4G LTE, larger screens, and more
This year's MWC may have been lacking in high-end smartphone launches, but the "W" stands for "world" and lower-cost models shown this week are needed to open up the mobile-phone market to more people globally.
Here are some of the trends spotted at Mobile World Congress 2013 that indicate where the smartphone market is headed.
New operating systems
Mozilla's smartphone operating system, Firefox OS, got the most attention, but the Tizen camp led by Samsung Electronics and Intel, Jolla Mobile and its Sailfish Alliance, as well as Canonical, which is hard at work on Ubuntu for smartphones and tablets, were all in Barcelona.
Alcatel One Touch, LG Electronics, and ZTE all are developing smartphones based on the new Firefox OS, with hardware prices expected to be below $100 without subsidies. Huawei Technologies also said it will come out with products later this year, and Sony has voiced its support, but hasn't made a final decision on whether it will develop commercial products.
Smartphones using the other three platforms are also likely to arrive before Dec. 31.
Even though they are doing more to improve the smartphone-user experience, Canonical and Jolla are in for an uphill struggle. The advantage they have is that their size means they don't have to sell as many phones as a company like BlackBerry to make a go of it.
HD Voice spreads to the low end
According to the latest research from GSA (Global mobile Suppliers Association), 160 products with support for HD Voice have been announced in the market, which is 120 percent more than a year ago. Showing it is a technology for phones in all price ranges, Nokia introduced the HD Voice-compatible 301, a feature phone that costs $85 without taxes and subsidies.
The improved quality HD Voice offers is possible thanks to the use of AMR-WB (Adaptive Multi-Rate-Wideband), which is a speech-compression algorithm that doubles the range of voice frequencies transmitted (50 to 7000Hz versus 300 to 3400Hz).
Investment in mobile networks and devices with HD Voice is a worldwide trend and will accelerate in 2013. All manufacturers are urged to ship their feature phones and smartphones with W-AMR activated by default, according to Alan Hadden, president of the GSA.
For HD Voice, both the caller and the receiver need a compatible phone, and the network also needs to support the technology. In the beginning of the year, 61 mobile networks had implemented the technology.
4G LTE smartphone price drop
As 4G technology continues to be rolled out across the world, there is a growing need for LTE-capable smartphones in lower price ranges.
Smartphones that cost around $200 wholesale will emerge toward year's end, starting with mid-tier phones from Huawei Technologies, LG Electronics, Samsung, and operator Orange.
This development will continue as processor vendors such as Nvidia develop new processors customized for use in cheaper LTE smartphones and tablets.
Continued experimentation with screen sizes
Whatever screen size your heart desires, there is probably a smartphone or tablet that can make your wishes come true.
At MWC 2013, Samsung launched the Galaxy Note 8, which has an 8-inch screen. ZTE introduced the Grand Memo, which with its 5.7-inch screen is the latest product in the growing product category that sits between phones and tablets.
The Grand Memo's existence owes to the success of the Galaxy Note and Note II. However, without Samsung's brand and marketing might, ZTE and other vendors may find it difficult to repeat that success, but a little competition never hurts.
Dual-screen was a form factor that made a comeback at MWC. The Medias W from NEC has two 4.3-inch screens—each have a 540 x 960 pixel resolution—that are separated with a hinge that allows the device to be folded in the middle.
The battle for the enterprise
Enterprises that want to equip their employees with smartphones and tablets, or allow them to bring their own, have a growing number of options to choose from.
Just before Mobile World Congress started Citrix Systems launched XenMobile MDM, which is an integrated mobile-device-management offering based on the company's acquisition of Zenprise, and IBM presented MobileFirst.
At the show, Samsung launched KNOX, which offers a container that separates business and personal use of a mobile device.
Management software vendors like AirWatch will integrate with the technology to provide a more complete offering.