“Mobile World Congress” might not sound like anything of interest to the PC faithful, but don’t let the puffed-up name lead you astray. As personal computing spreads its wings beyond the desktop, the Mobile World Congress trade show has transformed into a technology showcase for connoisseurs of PC hardware and productivity products.
Indeed, the show’s all-encompassing relevance is no joke: Microsoft rolled out the Windows 8 Consumer Preview during MWC in 2012, and announced a big update for Windows 8.1 at this year’s show.
Now that you understand its significance in a PC-plus kind of world, let’s dig into the most intriguing gear from this year’s Mobile World Congress.
Windows 8.1 gets a refresh
Microsoft’s Windows 8.1 update is the headline story for all devoted PC users. The update was designed to placate PC users who’ve grown grumpy with the operating system’s finger-first focus, making “things better for people without touchscreens,” according to Microsoft VP Joe Belfiore.
Belfiore says the update will let mouse users launch modern-style apps straight from the keyboard, and that it adds right-click menu options to apps and Live Tiles alike. The Start Screen’s also getting Power, Search, and Settings buttons to keep mouse users from having to fiddle with the Charm bar. Check out the full report here, or go to our report on a leaked build of the Windows 8.1 update for even more secrets.
Windows Phone 8.1 update
Windows Phone is getting an update of its own this spring. Windows Phone 8.1 ditches the OS's hard keys in favor of virtual buttons, embraces even more processors and cellular standards, and works in a slew of business-friendly features—so many business-friendly features, in fact, that they required an article all of their own. And did I mention BBM's coming to Windows Phone, too?
Belfiore didn't spill all the beans, and Microsoft likely won't say more about Windows Phone 8.1 until the developer-focused Build conference in April. But we've gathered up all the juicy leaks to give you a glimpse of what to expect this spring. (Like a proper notification center, finally. No, really: Finally.)
HP Pavilion x360
Let's be real. HP's Pavilion x360 hybrid looks an awful lot like Lenovo's acclaimed Yoga series. We've loved every Yoga we've managed to get our grubby paws on, so that's not necessarily a bad thing, and HP's convertible sports one crucial difference: It skips Intel's powerful Core processors in favor of a more energy-efficient Bay Trail chip.
Naturally, that suggests that the Pavilion x360 will be less powerful than the bulk of the Yoga series. But more concretely, it means HP can sell the device for a budget-friendly $400, which is downright skimpy for an 11.6-inch touchscreen hybrid. Melissa Riofrio snagged some time with HP's bendy-twisty-flippy laptop at MWC. See it in action or read all about it.
SanDisk's 128GB microSD card
Thanks to SanDisk’s new Ultra microSDXC UHS-I Card, your smartphone could very well pack as much or even more storage than your Ultrabook. What madness is this world coming to?
(Pardon the slightly blurry image. SanDisk only released incredibly diminutive press images for the new card.)
Intel's 64-bit 'Bay Trail' Atom processors
Intel’s comparatively powerful and utterly energy-efficient “Bay Trail” Atom chips have breathed new life into fledgling hybrid and Windows tablet markets, but they’ve suffered from one crucial flaw: The processors were only available in 32-bit flavors. That limited Bay Trail devices to 4GB of RAM, among other drawbacks.
No more. At MWC, Intel announced that 64-bit Atom chips are finally shipping, with HP’s business-focused ElitePad 1000 G2 and ProPad 600 G1 being the first tablets announced to carry the new hardware. Expect to see many more follow soon.
Samsung Knox 2.0
The next generation of Samsung’s BYOD-focused device management software is on its way, aiming to keep work separate from play even more efficiently than before. Perhaps most notable is Knox’s newfound flexibility with apps. The software is expected to play nice with most Play Store apps now, as well as introduce the “Samsung Knox Marketplace,” which will include 150 business-ready apps that IT admins will be able to install on user devices.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg, however. Read up on all of Knox 2.0’s new capabilities.
Samsung Galaxy S5 and three new Gear wearables
Samsung didn’t stop with software, though—the mobile kingpin also announced its flagship Galaxy S5 smartphone, no less than two new Gear smartwatches (running Tizen rather than Android, no less), and the Gear Fit fitness tracker. Whew! Click those links for words about each, or save some time and let Melissa Riofrio give you a video tour of Samsung’s new galaxy of Gear.
Intel's fancy 64-bit smartphone processors
Speaking of phones, Intel used the spectacle of MWC ro unveil Merrifield and Moorefield, a pair of 64-bit mobile processors that sport epic endurance and play nice with Android and Windows alike. Intel hopes the duo will finally help the company crack into the juicy smartphone market, though the lack of integrated LTE may hurt, especially with competing chip makers like Samsung, Nvidia, and Qualcomm also unveiling powerful new processors at MWC.
Melissa Riofrio spent some up-close time with Intel’s latest and greatest smartphone chips, and even managed to snag video of them in action, in the form of the reference phones appearing at left. Intel was also showing off a 64-bit version of Android to demonstrate the processors’ chops.
AMD's APU-optimized Android inside of Windows
AMD, meanwhile, was busy showing off a new version of Android that it had developed with Bluestacks—one optimized for AMD’s APUs and designed to run virtually from right inside Windows. That gives Android access to the PC’s hardware—including cameras, accelerometers, and gyroscopes—and to the Windows file system itself.
AMD and Bluestacks are seeding PC builders with the software now, with the first Android-sporting Windows notebooks expected to launch in Europe later this year. We’re still not sold on the concept.
Wacom's WILL software
Wacom, already famous for its digital pens and other graphics-editing hardware, now wants to revolutionize the world of e-writing software. At Mobile World Congress 2014, Wacom announced plans to introduce the Wacom Ink Layer Language, or WILL, which it essentially hopes will serve as a cross-platform platform of its own, designed for sharing and tracking writing movements across devices and operating systems—even if you aren’t using Wacom accessories.
Wacom plans to roll out software development kits for Android, iOS, OS X, Windows, and even web browsers in the coming months. Read all about Wacom’s grand ambitions.
Nokia’s long-rumored Android phone that looks like a Windows Phone is finally official, right as Microsoft’s acquisition of the Finnish company nears finalization. Can you say “awkward?”
The Nokia X, X+, and XL ditch Google to run Microsoft and Nokia services atop an Android Open Source Project core, and they’re all priced right around the hundred euro range. Between their “growth market” focus and the fact that Microsoft may (or may not) kill the Windows Phone competitor completely, don’t hold your breath for a stateside release. But hey: They are pretty darned intriguing. Catch the Nokia X and intrepid mobile reporter Florence Ion in action here.
But wait, there's more!
That’s a veritable flood of interesting new gizmos, doodads, and software, and it’s just the tip of the Mobile World Congress iceberg. PCWorld’s MWC category includes far more info than we could ever hope into a mere slideshow. Be sure to check it out for info about encrypted “ Blackphones,” privacy-focused Android operating systems, HP’s handy, stateside-bound mobile DataPass program, Lenovo’s gorgeous Yoga Tablet 10 HD+, and a whole, whole lot more.